Don't Read Too Much Into Radiohead's Claim That It Won't Offer Music For Free Again

from the just-wait-and-see dept

Radiohead is making some noise again today, with lead singer Thom Yorke basically saying that the band won’t do a promotion giving away free music again. Some are using this to suggest the model was a failure or that those of us who recognize the clear economic trends toward free music were somehow wrong. That’s not the case at all. Early on Yorke had admitted that there was no large theory behind the decision to do the name your own price offering. One of the band’s managers suggested it and the group went with it as a publicity stunt — which worked. The fact that the band then pulled down the download offering prior to releasing the actual CD confirmed that the band merely viewed the free offering as a stunt, rather than part of a larger strategy. As such, it’s not at all surprising that Yorke would say the band won’t do it again. Since they only viewed it as a stunt, repeating the stunt doesn’t make sense. They’ll come up with some other stunt for the next release. That doesn’t, however, mean that the idea was wrong or a failure. Just that the band wants its publicity stunts to be new and different each time. The fact that this most recent one tapped into an obvious trend seems to have been more of a lucky guess than the sign of a well-thought out strategy. The good news is that it’s made plenty of others start to realize the power of free music — even if that line of thought hasn’t permeated back to Radiohead and Yorke.

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Comments on “Don't Read Too Much Into Radiohead's Claim That It Won't Offer Music For Free Again”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Uh huh

You know, I actually find it amazing how many people instantly start flaming Mike.

1) Where do you see that Mike is attacking Yorke? The only thing that comes close to it is the last sentence there, which only says that Yorke & Radiohead dont see free/name your price music as a valid business model.

It seems to be working for Trent Reznor btw. He actually made MORE money (as in money in his pocket, not how much the albums made) by doing the name your own price, and thats without the special collector edition preorders counted.

2) The rest of the article just says that its dumb for reporters/bloggers to take Radiohead not doing the free/name your price thing again as meaning the business model doesn’t work.

As he FLAT OUT says in the blog post, Radiohead saw it as a publicity stunt _NOT_ a busines model. Because it was a publicity stunt they’re not planning on repeating it. Why would they?

If instead they played their ‘latest single’ while sky diving before pulling their parachutes as a publicity stunt, why would they repeat that?

You wouldn’t. You don’t repeat publicity stunts (usually).

Honestly, I have to say you need to go take some english classes again and get some comprehension down. Because I completely don’t see any point you’re trying to make in the post. I see what I saw above in my own post.

Rose M. Welch says:

Huh, Eric?

I’m not sure what blog post you just read, but the one I read said that others may think that Radiohead’s stance on not repeating the gimmick meant it failed, as opposed to it being, you know, a gimmick.

Radiohead is said to have made a very decent amount of money from that offering and people are still buying the album for cheap on Amazon, not to mention the tons of goodwill and PR that’s come thier way it. They sounded really happy about it in this article:

In the meantime, Coldplay is offering a single from thier new album free, and NIN offered part of thier new album for free. In addition, I got eight free tracks from Amazon yesterday. Five were pretty crappy, but two were interesting and one was neat enough that I’m going to buy more tracks from that band, which was, of course, the intent in giving me free music downloads.

SteveD says:

Trent Renzor

Its a bit of a shame that Radiohead have been picking up so much mainstream media attention for a PR stunt, while Nine Inch Nails far more sincere offering has recieved almost none.

No doubt Trent Renzor would have a lot more to say in an interview then Thom Yorke’s slightly embarrased admission that he had to be convinced of the idea.

cram (profile) says:

To sell or not to sell

Hi Mike

There you go again. I read a related link in which you say:

“Continuing to offer fans an option in terms of how they want to consume and purchase the music only makes sense. It’s not as if the music is suddenly not going to be available on various file sharing sites.”

I’d llike to know what your position is: should bands sell music or give it away for free? Because you seem to be advocating both.

Also, you mention the file sharing sites, which are clearly abetting piracy. Aren’t you gonna say more, on why existence of piracy and our inability to do anything about it is the basis for your “give music away free and make money from tours” model?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: To sell or not to sell

@cram: You asked Mike “I’d llike to know what your position is: should bands sell music or give it away for free? Because you seem to be advocating both.”.

Why not advocate both? Use the music as a promotional tool to sell itself. It seems to have worked to some degree for Radiohead, and to a larger degree for the more refined model offered by Nine Inch Nails.

You seem to be falling into the usual trap that people stumble into when discussing this issue. This is not a business where it’s “all or nothing”. As ably demonstrated by Radiohead’s model, even if people can get the music for free, they still pay. Not every single person will, but Radiohead sold more copies of their album by giving it away than they would have through normal channels.

Your mistake is assuming that everybody either pays for the music or gets it for free, and nobody every crosses the line from free to paid. it’s a lot more complicated than that, as every real music fan knows.

Errant Garnish (profile) says:

No stunt

One nuance about Radiohead’s release of “In Rainbows” which can be overlooked: they did not release a CD in the traditional sense of granting copyright to a publisher. They licensed it to the publisher, and this license is constrained by time and/or units sold. After the license term is over, the rights will revert back to the owner of the copyright (Radiohead).

The licensing model is not usually used for popular music artist new releases; it is more likely to be used for thematic compilations (Best of the 80’s Party Collection) where the licensor is selecting a track with predictable market value to re-release and the licensee is granting limited use for a set fee.

In essense they have combined a high-risk model (choose your price download) with a low-risk model (licensing) to create their overall distribution strategy. Radiohead has the level of success necessary to take these risks; due to their popularity and partnerless approach they are less concerned about maximizing revenue and more likely to experiment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No stunt

It was a stunt. And it was a stunt Yorke didn’t want to go along with. And it was a stunt that was very successful. If it was an experiment, the success thereof would lead to more such releases; but Yorke just said this won’t be happening.

That bit about the liscence is interesting, and I think that might be a sign of something; Radiohead’s reputation as a ‘sure bet’ or whatever. My understanding is that most publishers won’t accept a liscence to do a CD because it doesn’t maximize their profits. The fact that the publisher liscenced InRainbows shows that artists are making getting more control over their creations.

Eric Aitala (profile) says:

This 'quote'

Note this line ‘One of the band’s managers suggested it and the group went with it as a publicity stunt — which worked.’

At no point do I recall Radiohead saying this was a ‘publicity stunt’. What I do recall hearing from Yorke’s interview with David Byrne is that they tired it because they were out of their previous contract and thought it might be interesting to try.

Mike uses the word ‘stunt’ five times… now perhaps the publicity did not hurt getting the word out about Radiohead, but I think the use of ‘stunt’ by Mike shows his bias.

In general, I have few issues with the articles posted here…


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This 'quote'

You seem to think ‘stunt’ is perjorative; I’m not sure why. If it was an interesting thing to try, and it succeeded, then why wouldn’t you continue to do it? Because it wasn’t an experiment, it was a stunt — and a stunt they could do because they weren’t under contract saying otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just unfortunate that Radiohead isn’t planning on taking more advantage of it.

Stunts don’t get repeated, even if they’re successful. They’re interesting (risky) things you do once to get attention, and repeating them doesn’t draw the same publicity. This offering isn’t being repeated despite being successful; it was a stunt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hi Mike

“I’m “advocating” neither. I’m pointing out the basic economics, which suggests that those who do not give away their music for free will eventually have trouble with their business model. Bands can choose to do what they want, but in the long term, giving away music for free is where the market economics are clearly headed.”

I’d like to know if you think a middle path between free music and RIAA-controlled distribution is possible.

This site and our arguments set me thinking: perhaps established bands could sell their music online using a pre-order system, stipulating that the album/track would be released only if a minimum number of units are sold. This ensures the musicians get all the money from the sale of their music (as opposed to sharing some/most of it with labels) and benefits the fan who has to pay a lot less than a CD.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I have to comment here…

“I’d like to know if you think a middle path between free music and RIAA-controlled distribution is possible.”

Yes, of course it is. Check Nine Inch Nails’ success for evidence of that.

It’s also very possible for many independent labels. Check eMusic,, many podcasts including Indiefeed, KCRW and KEXP – free MP3 tracks, many of them daily, used to promote albums. I’ve bought numerous albums on the strength of these. In fact, I just bought my first RIAA album for 8 months (Portishead’s Third) even though I tend to buy at least 7 albums per month (thanks, eMusic sub!).

You seem to be falling into the usual trap of assuming that nobody who downloads an album will ever pay for it, and that the only alternative to the RIAA model is to give it away. Wrong, by a huge margin, on both counts.

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