Radiohead on your Computer, OK?

Radiohead’s former label EMI are recycling the Oxford mope rocker’s back catalogue in a manner that’s as canny as the band’s recent release of In Rainbows. That’s the album Radiohead put out as a pay-what-you-like digital download.

With the back catalogue release, punters have a choice of three formats; an old school CD boxset retailing at £39.99 for seven discs, a DRM-free digital download for £34.99 or a squee-tastic bespoke USB key version, filled with CD quality WAV files for £79.99.

Meanwhile, CNET have spun initial sales statistics for In Rainbows into a gloating story that derides the download tactic as a failure. The gist of the piece is that most people paid much less than the going rate for the album, with 62% acquiring it for free. Buried alongside this bombshell are a series of lesser numbers, which show that 38% of folks paid between a penny and 20 U.S. dollars for their download. In other words, nearly 40% chose to pay for In Rainbows when they could have had it for free…

The article fails to take into account – or even mention – that a number of people might be taking the “try before you buy” approach, saving their pennies for the forthcoming boxset version of the album. Retailing at £40 (about $80), a deluxe package with full colour artwork will be released on the 3rd of December, alongside a second CD full of brand new music. The CNET feature also neglects to mention how many downloads were recorded. That’s because Radiohead aren’t telling. British web site Gigwise ( estimated a first day tally of 1.2 million downloads, based on pre-orders. That’s about three times as many as the last album Hail to the Thief sold in its first week. Judging from comments on a number of forums, we’re betting that a large portion of those were folks who wouldn’t ordinarily buy Radiohead’s music.

To make it entirely fair, let’s factor in some of Radiohead’s savings too. There was no label campaign to fund, no posters, parties or press junkets. Every penny of profit will go into Radiohead’s coffers, instead of up some A&R man’s nose.

Whether you look at In Rainbows as an experimental act of altruism or the latest in a long line of rock follies – one thing remains certain. You literally could not pay for the publicity that the stunt has generated. That has to be worth the fluff from anyone’s pocket.

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