Convenience Can Be More Important Than Free

from the it-ain't-all-about-the-price dept

There’s some buzzing about a recent Forbes article concerning the fact that even though you can get Radiohead’s new music “legally” for free at their site, many, many people are still downloading it from unauthorized sources. This shouldn’t be surprising or even remotely controversial. Of course people are going to download it elsewhere. They do so because it’s convenient. If there’s one thing that we’ve seen over and over and over again is that convenience is everything in this market. It can even trump price. The success of AllofMp3 had nothing to do with “free” music, but with the convenience the site provided. People are willing to pay for that convenience, even if it’s free elsewhere. So, if it’s more convenient for people to get the music from other sources, that should be seen as a good thing. That’s why media companies have to learn to let go of the control and recognize that there are many, many different ways that people will want to get their content, and they should learn to embrace them all, rather than demanding that everyone does things their way.

The Forbes article on this (linked above) has some really odd quotes from Intellectual Property law professor Doug Lichtman, who seems to think that people downloading the album from unauthorized sites is somehow a bad thing that has hurt Radiohead’s experiment. It appears that he, like so many others, seems to have ignored the full explanation of Radiohead’s business model here. What they make from the digital copies is rather meaningless. They’re trying to get the music spread as far and wide as possible, and then are trying to give fans a real reason to still buy the CD by providing many valuable extras. Lichtman claims that this shows it’s hard to compete with free — but I’d actually take the exact opposite lesson. It’s easy to compete with free. If you provide convenience, flexibility and focus on selling services or tangible goods that are made more valuable by the free distribution of content, competing with free isn’t that hard at all. Radiohead seems to be proving that quite well.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Convenience Can Be More Important Than Free”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
RandomThoughts (user link) says:

“Radiohead this week released their online-only record, , pricing it at $USas-much-as-you-want-to-pay, and subsequently took in an estimated $US9 million in sales (average of $US4 per download) in its first few days.”

Two questions. Would they have taken in more with a traditional release? Probably not. Does this translate to other artists without the draw of Radiohead? That is the $64 question.

Radiohead produced this record themselves, how many others have that ability?

Jason says:


From the article:

“Hundreds of thousands of Web users who frequent copyright-infringing file-sharing sites, including The Pirate Bay and TorrentSpy,”

The slander campaign continues. neither of these sites are copyright-infringing… At least according to the law.

On a related note, Amazon cleaned up the interface to their MP3 site, making it easier to use. A few days later, Apple lowers its DRM free prices. Coincidence?
It seems that ease of use is better than free.

Morgan says:


“What they make from the digital copies is rather meaningless. They’re trying to get the music spread as far and wide as possible, and then are trying to give fans a real reason to still buy the CD by providing many valuable extras.”

I don’t believe for a second they’ll make more from the physical than from the digital copies, but we’ll see. Unless they make significantly more via physical, I wouldn’t call the digital ‘meaningless’ just because it toes the digital-information-is-free meme.

As always, suggesting there is another business model for someone does not entitle me to force them to use it, nor to rationalize stealing as some sort of altruistic cosmic sharing lovefest.

chris (profile) says:

i'd pay for an effective search service

i would pay to use a service that would find the movie/song/book/whatever that i wanted in the format i was looking for and download it quickly.

i use and blockbuster online to get some things, and the pirate bay and EZTV for everything else.

when emusic has what i’m looking for, it’s effortless compared to TPB and EZTV where i have to locate something in the format and language i am looking for (in xvid/NTSC/english), wait for it to download, unrar it, and all of that other madness. sure it’s free, but it’s a lot of waiting and working.

so, if i could get everything in one place (one site, one tool, one search) fast and without unraring/transcoding/whatever, hell yes i would pay for that.

Forrest Green says:

Overlooked Value

One frequently overlooked value of sites like is that they have variable pricing for variable service. I buy music from them for the purpose of listening on an mp3 player while exercising. I don’t need/want the whole CD; I don’t need/want CD quality. So I buy what I need/want (the tracks I want at the quality I need/want) at a reasonable (to me) price.

The recording industry, unfortunately isn’t interested in what I want/need.


Marc Cohen (user link) says:

Financial success is a big assumption

So far Radiohead has only proven that they can get a lot of publicity. You are assuming that they will be successful in selling a lot of CDs. That is a big assumption. The distribution of In Rainbows has not been a great financial success to date and I don’t think there is any empirical reason to believe it will.

Check out the Ad-Supported Music Central blog:

PaulT says:

Re: Financial success is a big assumption

“The distribution of In Rainbows has not been a great financial success to date”

Really? All the reports to far is that over 1 million albums have been sold at an average of $8. A platinum record (or triple platinum under the UK system) in less that 2 weeks and $8 million going direct to the band (minus server/bandwidth costs) isn’t financially successful?

fuse5k says:

on and on with the same old bullshit

Right, I’m sick of hearing about how bands will make money on live shows by giving away free music. A tour for a band of any size (except possibly the biggest of bands) will never make much money. The costs of touring are huge.

The reason why radiohead are able to do this is because the do not have a record label. Basically they paid to record the album themselves, and now they are giving it away, for donations. None of this money will go to anyone else but radiohead, and they are probably making more money from this album than they would from any of the others, as royalty rates for even the biggest stars will be only around 20%. In order to surpass this amount on a record lable they would have to pull in gross sales of over £50 million, and even then, before any royalties are generated they will have to repay the record company for all costs. (have you seen any TV ad’s for the new album)

Basically by having enough money to record the album themselves, and having a big enough fanbase to discount the need for marketing on the album, radiohead have found a good way to make money.(and giving the album away as a donation counts as marketing for the physical disc)

Will this change the recording industry? No. Because the point is that smaller bands dont have the cash to make a proper studio album on their own, or the fame not to have to market them. You can think of the record company as a kind of bank, who instead of giving you a straight loan, will take a hefty chunk of your future earnings instead.

My only other point is, will radiohead still be smiling when the “bonus” features available on the physical copy of the CD, get ripped to bittorrent? I think not.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...