In what appears to be the most significant experiment since digital downloading began, Radiohead’s first album away from a major label will be sold for a price determined by each individual consumer.
The digital download version of “In Rainbows,” which began 10 days of pre-sales Monday, can be purchased for as little as a dollar, which the band said will cover only the credit card fee.
Band’s website, Inrainbows.com, billed the offer as “It’s up to you.”
Radiohead has circled a few dates on the calendar for “In Rainbows.” It will be available for download on Oct. 10; a special-edition box set, called “Discbox,” will be shipped around Dec. 3 and can also be preordered; and a traditional CD version of “In Rainbows” will be released in early 2008.
“Discbox” includes double vinyl and CD versions of the 10-song “In Rainbows” and a second, enhanced CD with an additional eight songs, artwork and photographs of the band. Anyone purchasing the deluxe edition — price is about $80 — will automatically receive the bundled MP3 album on Oct. 10.
Radiohead’s seven previous albums have been released by EMI’s Capitol Records; the past three have charted in the top three in the U.S.
Internationally, the band is even more successful, and as with many superstar rock acts, the end of a contract with a label has meant a reconsideration of that affiliation, even a questioning if one is necessary.
Pearl Jam, for example, left Epic for J Records; the Eagles reunion album involves a unique deal involving Wal-Mart, Universal South and the Eagles’ company; and Paul McCartney ended a lengthy relationship with EMI for Starbucks’ Hear Music earlier this year. In addition, there have been reports that Madonna will explore creating her own label operation with the expiration of her Warner Music deal.
With this approach, Radiohead has eliminated a label, a wholesaler and retail operations. The risk is that their fanbase will purchase the music for far less than a going rate — Apple’s iTunes would most likely offer the album for between $9 and $10 — and it is quite possible that the music will be widely pirated despite the official offering at next-to-nothing.
In essence, Radiohead is orchestrating the leak of its new album. No advance copies are being made available for the media or radio, and it will be watched closely to see if the availability of the MP3 version scares off any potential distributors of the hard CD. A distrib for the physical copy has not yet been chosen, nor has any deal been inked with a digital service.
Album was produced by Nigel Godrich, who has produced albums with the band for more than 10 years.