Remember when people thought Prince was crazy for selling his music exclusively online?* Or the time when William Morris Agency Worldwide Head of International Music Ed Bicknell scoffed at me for asking why any band in its right marketing mind needs a major label? Well, it looks like Radiohead is putting its money where your mouse is.
Arguably the most influential band of the past 15 years, Radiohead has decided to release its next album online. But here’s catch: You choose what to pay.**
According to Time Magazine:
The ramifications of Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want experiment will take time to sort out, but for established artists at least, turning what was once their highest value asset — a much buzzed-about new album — into a loss leader may be the wave of the future. Even under the most lucrative record deals, the ones reserved for repeat, multi-platinum superstars, the artists can end up with less than 30% of overall sales revenue (which often is then split among several band members). Meanwhile, as record sales decline, the concert business is booming. In July, Prince gave away his album 3121 for free in the U.K. through the downmarket Mail on Sunday newspaper. At first he was ridiculed. Then he announced 21 consecutive London concert dates — and sold out every one of them.
Now that’s confidence. In fact, that’s the point. Just like countless bestselling book authors who make most of their money from speaking engagements and new business, musicians generally make more from live performances than they do albums.
Besides, isn’t it time to stick it to the major labels? On his Lefsetz Letter blog, Bob “the most feared man in music biz criticism” Lefsetz had this [expletive deleted] to say:
It’s not like Radiohead’s living in a different world. But they’re playing by a different rule book. One that says the money flows from the music, that people have to believe in you, that you’ve got to treat them right.
[expletive deleted], you can barely get a ticket to a Radiohead show. The venues aren’t big and the demand is incredible. They’re doing it all wrong, don’t they see??
Well, obviously they don’t.
This is big news. This says the major labels are [expletive deleted]. Untrustworthy with a worthless business model. Radiohead doesn’t seem to care if the music is free. Not that they believe it will be. Because believers will give you ALL THEIR MONEY!
This is the industry’s worst nightmare. Superstar band, THE superstar band, forging ahead by its own wits. Proving that others can too. And they will.
A longtime Radiohead fan myself, I intend to pre-order In Rainbows at full iTunes (over)price, right after I convert £’s to $’s — which, the exchange rate being what it is, I reckon will be more painful than actually spending the money. Oh, and if anyone from the band is reading this, I just want you to know that I downloaded Hail to the Thief for free. It won’t happen again.
If you’re still wondering what a band like Radiohead can teach you about creating win-wins for you and your
customers fans, perhaps it’s time to revisit “The ROI of Free“.
[*Author's Note: Whether you still think Prince is nuts for changing his name to that bizarre symbol icon in the 90's is another story. But, hey, he made more money on a song called "Let's Go Crazy" than most of us will make in our lives, so who are we to judge?]
[**Unless you forgo the download and buy the delux box set version -- limited edition vinyl, posters, goodies, etc. -- only available from the Radiohead website.]