From The Times: Win or lose, the revolution starts here
October 2, 2007 | Pete Paphides, Rock Critic
In some small English villages, it’s not an uncommon sight — a display of newly harvested vegetables and next to them an “honesty box” inviting you to leave some money.
On the face of it, Radiohead’s decision to sell downloads of In Rainbows — eight weeks before its physical equivalent — at whatever price you might care to pay for it, is not so different. Its timing, though, is charged with an almost political significance. The worth of music forms part of the crisis in the industry. But by taking that question to their own constituency, Radiohead have done something remarkably radical. Record company paranoia about the free dissemination of songs goes back to the days when album sleeves bore a skull and crossbones with the legend “Home Taping is Killing Music” on it. In the age of file sharing and free albums with newspapers, the problem has merely intensified.
Underpinning all of this is the assumption that, given a choice, people will steal music rather than pay for it. Radiohead are putting that to the test. There’s no doubt that thousands will hand over the price of a sherbet dip for the download. Presumably, though, Radiohead’s argument runs that those people would have obtained the album through file-sharing sites.
What this move relies on is the notion that there is between Radiohead and their fans a collateral of trust and, dare the term be uttered, decency.
This is the very thing that has propelled the band to unprecedented autonomy. If it works, it will — at the click of a few million mice — make them the most powerful band in Britain.
From Times Online: Radiohead challenges music industry with 'honesty box' album sale
October 1, 2007 | Adam Sherwin, Media Correspondent of The Times
How much would you pay for a new album by the world's most critically acclaimed rock band? Radiohead has put its reputation on the line by asking fans to name a price for its long-awaited new album.
A common complaint since illegal downloading hit the traditional markets for recorded music has been that no fair-priced legal alternative exists. Now fans can decide for the first time how much, or if at all, a band should be rewarded for its efforts.
Radiohead, the innovative Oxford group whose 1997 OK Computer album was voted the best ever, shocked the record industry by announcing that its seventh album would be released solely through the band's website.
In Rainbows, a ten-track album, will be released as a digital download on Wednesday of next week. Fans who tried to pre-order the download were told they could name their own price. A message read "It's up to you" when users clicked on a question mark next to a blank price box. A subsequent screen reassured fans seeking more information: "No really, it's up to you."
If sceptics believe Radiohead has passed its creative peak, the album can be downloaded free, bar a 45p transaction charge.
The album, the first since the band's contract with EMI expired, will be sold as high-quality MP3 files, which can be copied across the net and between digital music players.
Radiohead's global fanbase immediately swamped the site with download orders. Website chat forums devoted to the band hosted debates over the appropriate amount to tender.
Some sheepishly admitted they had paid their heroes 00.00p, saying that they did not own a credit card. One respondent wrote: "Unless u literally have no money in the bank or don't have a credit card, at least pay a bit of something/donation for a GIFT from this amazing band."
Scratchy clips of the band playing the new songs on YouTube were scoured to assess the album's likely value.
New albums are usually sold for £7.99 through iTunes but Radiohead refuses to allow its albums to be sold on the music site because the band does not want purchasers to be able to cherry-pick individual tracks.
Ben Drury, the deputy chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association, said the "honesty box" download challenged Apple's policy of charging a fixed 79p price for iTunes tracks.
He said: "It is another step towards variable pricing which consumers want. But someone in our office paid £10 for the download, which is quite high for an album."
The tracks will immediately be posted on pirate MP3 websites, Mr Drury warned. The transactions are being handled by Waste Products, an Oxford company which previously sold the band's "ethical" merchandise, and there were questions over whether it could cope with the demand.
The Official Charts Company will not accept "free" Radiohead sales for inclusion. But the 30-million selling band will not end up out of pocket.
Radiohead has also announced a £40 discbox version of the album, containing two CDs, extra tracks, artwork and a book, which fans began to order as collector's items. This will not be delivered until December, making the download a must for those who have waited since 2003's Hail To The Thief for new Radiohead material.
The band's latest move is a blow to struggling high-street music stores and to EMI, which has released Radiohead's records since 1992. It said: "Radiohead have always looked to experiment with new ways of working and we continue to discuss future plans with them."
A spokesman for the band said: "Radiohead.com is open for business and the site has been totally swamped. People can get the album for free if they choose. But it is a brilliant album."
With legal downloads failing to make up a 10 per cent slump in album sales this year, artists with a strong live following are beginning to abandon the paid-for album.
Prince gave his new CD away free with a Sunday newspaper and at gigs. The Charlatans will give their new album away as a download through the XFM radio station website because their primary income stream is sold-out gigs. The former chart-toppers Marillion funded an album through £16-a-head donations from 13,000 fans.
Led by Thom Yorke, Radiohead has straddled the line between artistic experimentation and stadium-filling anthems since selling five million copies of OK Computer.
Reports suggest the new album marks a return to a more guitar-focused sound after exploring "electronica" during recent releases.
Listen to songs from the new album