The pay-what-you-like concept is something that consumer industries stray far away from. This isn’t a secret, but every once and a while staunch individuals come along and change everything. Their goal is to change the meta-game of the industry and become a driving force combating the vile side of the said industry. The artist and record label relationship. Artists get a significantly low amount of money for each record they sell. Radiohead is the staunch group of individuals I am talking about. They didn’t exactly do it before anyone else, but they are the first big-name band to do it and they did it on their own. The band is the future of the music industry, as far as Rolling Stone is concerned. Radiohead finished their contractual obligations with their ex-major label, EMI, with the release of Hail to the Thief in 2004. Afterwards, Thom Yorke, the lead singer for Radiohead, developed disgust with the record industry and how everything operates. In an interview for Rolling Stone, Yorke was quoted saying: “If I die tomorrow, I’ll be happy that we didn’t carry on working within this huge industry that I don’t feel any connection with.”
The band had their time working with a major record label, and they weren’t really into it. Radiohead released their album, In Rainbows as a digital release via their site in October 2007. The band would have posted it for free, but realized it would have cost them a fortune just to pay for the bandwidth of seeding the album to anxious fans. So, they did the next best thing and told the Internet that they can pay what they like for the album. This, of course, didn’t mean anything to most people since it was recorded that only two out of every five paid anything at all. After it was all said and done, the band didn’t release much data regarding the success of the pay-what-you-like scheme, but with what was released, it was figured that Radiohead netted an average of about $2.26 for each album downloaded. To the naked eye, this would most definitely be considered a failure since most downloaded albums sell for $9.99, but one thing must be pointed out: Radiohead sold these on their own, reportedly 1.2 million albums on their own. And that was just on the first day of availability. They didn’t have a record label gobbling up all the money for this manager or that managing fee; they had just themselves to worry about. So, the album netted the band more than they would have by releasing it via a major label.
Radiohead may have made a profit on the album, In Rainbows, but the fact that over half of the users didn’t pay anything at all was somewhat alarming to me. I remember when the news rang in that my favorite band of all time was releasing another album. I quickly hopped on my laptop and downloaded it paying only $5.00. At the time, I was seventeen and stole pretty much all the music I downloaded. I didn’t find it as a big deal and that is probably attributed with my biasness towards Radiohead. I felt and still do feel like they are better than everyone else and should be rewarded handsomely. If I did illegally download any of their material, I’d get the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I would if I cheated on my girlfriend; a sense of dismay within myself. So, out of shear respect for the band, I paid for their album (and later bought a physical copy and a vinyl record). The album was on torrent sites nearly instantly, but I remember specifically going to these sites and happily seeing it having a lot less seeders and leechers than most torrents of this magnitude of a media bump. I think this is because mostly everyone was downloading it off their website because they knew they could do so for free. What a feat. Radiohead single handedly struck a chord not only with the music industry, but the torrenting and illegal downloading industry. And thanks to Napster, that is an industry.
Can bands advertise themselves and bare all the costs of doing so? In short, yes, and Radiohead has proven that. We are in the Internet age, making it possible for knowledge and information to be spread like wildfire. Radiohead admits that they wanted to use this as a marketing tool for their physical release of the album months later, but they were astonished at just how much the media picked up on it. Jonny Greenwood was cited saying in the Rolling Stone’s interview: “I really thought it would be a splash in a little pond, and I was surprised at how much the media picked up on it. Unlike a lot of Radiohead stuff, this idea really was boredom-driven. Just about avoiding the old.” The band did succeed in this when their physical album was released in January 2008. It debuted at number one in the US and the UK. Their first US and their fifth UK number one chart spot. Using their clout and past success, Radiohead has changed the industry. Inspiring bands such as Nine Inch Nails to attempt the same concept.
Where does the music industry go from here? Well, that was 2007-2008 and the Internet. The driving force behind this is a fast-moving beast. Radiohead announced their eighth album, The King Of Limbs, only one week before they released it via digital download and physical pre-order on their site. The band didn’t exercise the pay-what-you-like concept, though. Instead, they are attempting to change the industry once again with “the world’s first newspaper album”. What is this? Well, it is not entirely explained, at least not just yet. The newspaper album is up for pre-order on Radiohead’s and the details that are given explain it as an album that will include two 10” vinyl’s, many large sheets of artwork including 625 little pieces of artwork with a oxo-degradable plastic sheet to hold it all together, and a compact disc. Radiohead actually won a Grammy for their packaging of the physical release of In Rainbows. This is taking the packaging of an album to a whole new level and will most likely change the music industry’s and our views on just how an album should be packaged. Radiohead is a band that knows that downloading is the future, but maybe physical releases of an album can become a celebrated occasion that only the die-hard fans will stand by. I think that is something that Radiohead is pushing for with the release of the “newspaper” album. I believe that with In Rainbows, Radiohead showed that they think that digital downloads are stale and need a nudge in a different direction. The King of Limbs is no different. Radiohead obviously is attacking the preconceived notion of the physical release of an album with the “newspaper” album release. If you think about it, they are the pioneer of change for the music industry and maybe the future really does belong to Radiohead.