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Radiohead’s brave new world

On Monday Radiohead sent shockwaves through the music industry and paroxysms of fear through the major record labels when they announced that their new album In Rainbows would go on sale on the 10th October as a direct digital rights management (DRM) free download from their website. The price: whatever you feel like paying for it. Fans can choose to pay anything from a penny upwards for the downloaded album. Band spokesperson Murray Chalmers indicated to the BBC that so far most people are paying close to the retail price:

“Although the idea is that you can decide what you want to pay, most people are deciding on a normal retail price with very few trying to buy it for a penny.”

A special edition box set containing CD’s, 12 inch vinyl versions of the album and other assorted bits and pieces will be available in December for $80 (about R560), and a CD version of the album will be sold in traditional CD stores at a later date.

The band are currently without a record label (their first six albums were on Parlophone), and all of the revenue from these sales go directly to the band, bypassing the archaic and expensive distribution system that powers the major labels.

They are not the first band to go this route — record label Magnatune has been selling albums for years using the “pay what you want” model, but they are the first super group to do this and other artists are sure to sit up, take notice and start experimenting with their own pricing and distribution models.

Radiohead have always been a band at odds with the actual business of music. They have raged about the environmental cost of touring, refused to sell their songs on iTunes because they only wanted to sell full albums, and been constantly accused of committing commercial suicide by redefining their sound and music with every album release. This latest move, however, positions them as true rock and roll subversives.

Thanks to the internet, Radiohead have freed themselves from the constraints of record labels, distributors and retailers and connected directly with their fans. It’s a brave, brilliant move, one that will surely change the music business.