The music industry is suffering. Failures and mistakes ascending into the digital age have led to seven straight years of declining sales. But when music industry luminaries talk about the need for new business models, it’s hard to believe they imagined one option would be setting out a tip jar. That, however, is more or less, exactly what one of the most critically lauded and influential bands of the past decade has decided to do.
Radiohead, the British band that gained global fame in the late 90’s, announced today that they will offer a full digital cut of their 7th studio album on their website for whatever price listeners feel like paying. They’ll become the Priceline of the music industry.
Starting October 10, listeners can download a complete drm-free copy of In Rainbows for any price of their choosing. Instead of 99cents a song, they’ll be able to buy the whole album for a buck. It sounds crazy but instead of viewing digital music sales as the endpoint, Radiohead is viewing it as a start.
The download will function as marketing tool to seed demand for sale of a special edition album and build demand for their next tour. If effective, the approach could reverse longstanding practice in the music industry. It could redefine touring as the revenue model rather product sales. In essence, the band will be selling music to support a live tour rather than touring to encourage the sale of music.
Radiohead has always been experimental and on the cutting edge – but largely for their music, not their business strategies. This move puts the band at the crossroads of a changing industry. As a band with a strong fan base and no label affiliation, it’s a move few others could make.
Prince is another who’s been creative with sales strategy. At one point, he built the purchase of a CD into ticketing prices for his shows. Every concert goer received a copy of the disc, and every disc given out counted as one sold toward billboard rankings and total sales. Two months ago, Prince gave away his latest album with the British newspaper The Mail. Other bands have since begun to try similar.
The Radiohead experiment falls into a similar category. Listeners can pre-order copies of the album starting today. A special edition deluxe double vinyl and CD version of the album that comes with bonus songs, artwork and photographs will also be available but that won’t ship until December.