"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Radiohead Pioneers

Score one for the revolution:

bq.. I didn’t pay anything to download Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” last Wednesday. When the checkout page on the band’s Web site allowed me to type in whatever price I wanted, I put 0.00, the lowest I could go. My economist friends say this makes me a rational being.

Apparently not everybody is this lucid, at least not in matters related to their favorite British rock band. After Radiohead announced it would allow fans to download its album for whatever price they chose, about a third of the first million or so downloads paid nothing, according to a British survey. But many paid more than $20. The average price was about $8. That is, people paid for something they could get for free.

p. That's $8M that the band just pocketed. Very nice. Considering most artists make between $1 and $2 per CD sold (and that's after the label recoups their contracted recording costs), it's a safe bet that this will shake up the industry. You can download yours here.

I paid for mine, the first time I've paid for recreational music in close to a decade. In the above-linked article, much is devoted to the "crazyness" of this notion, although the author seems to grasp the reasons why fans respond generously:

bq. Some economists suspect that what is going on is that people get a kick from the act of giving the band money for the album rather than taking it for free. It could take many forms, like pleasure at being able to bypass the record labels, which many see as only slightly worse than the military-industrial complex. It could come from the notion that the $8 helps keep Radiohead in business. Or it could make fans feel that they are helping create a new art form — or a new economy.

I would argue that this "feeling" is far more than that. The media-industrial complex is in fact corrupt and culturally destructive, and with an increasing array of established artists coming to the end of their contracts (and more and more up-and-comers looking to not get locked in), I think this album is a very important step towards our collective emancipation from mental slavery.

It's one of the great tragedies of our time that a primitive notion of economics is the dominant paradigm of understanding among the power elite. The social science of studying barter and truck is a great one, and has revealed some keen insights into humanity and the world, but it's clearly limited even in its most sophisticated expressions, and downright misleading in the dominant econ 101 formulation.

The way I see it, people are generally motivated by a hierarchy of needs which are vastly more complex than the desire to accumulate money even if in many cases confused individuals sadly fixate on the latter as the answer to all problems. The quest for individual happiness, moreover, is itself quite complex, generally involving the attitudes and actions of other people. Once you move outside of a survival context, social forces matter hugely, and the emphasis within economics on the decisions of lone "rational actors" is a crippling liability in its usefulness in analyzing human nature, even in aggregate.

Anyay, I've been a moderate fan since their early breakthrough days on MTV's "Buzz Clips." Who among us did not have the hook from "Creep" stuck in their heads in the mid to late 90s? I say moderate because I'm not nearly as into them as others, and because I don't really like all their stuff. While I respect them enormously as artists, I do find some of their work self-indulgent and boring. It goes with their territory of trying to make art rather than catchy music, but I don't have to dig it, and that's also part of the deal. On the other hand, some of their albums and tracks are simply fantastic and I've done [[The Best I Can|some of my own art]] based on their work, so I gotta show them the love.

It's great to see Radiohead leading the way into the post-record-label universe. I've been saying for years that they're one of the few bands that are perfectly poised to do this, and their example should inspire others to jump ship. Here's hoping.

Oh. And the album is pretty good too.

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This is really cool, but until we see this done 10 times (or 20 times) I won't believe it's anything more than a phenomenon based on the novelty of the idea.

In addition to all the other things you get in econ101 should be that when the numbers are large enough, everything regresses to the mean.

I think the most likely end scenario is that the recording industry in total will shrink enormously - especially people who work for labels; bands will sell their songs for a small amount (DRM free); and consumers and bands will make out the best since the small amount will be reasonable to the consumer that they don't feel the need to pirate that much and reasonable to the band without the label taking their cut.

This "name your price" success is, I think, just an anomaly. An exciting one, and hopefully inspirational to other bands, but not sustainable.

We'll definitely see about this, but:

This “name your price” success is, I think, just an anomaly. An exciting one, and hopefully inspirational to other bands, but not sustainable.

I think it's a fairly strong model, because it actually echoes many of the contours of the pre-mass-consumption music industry. Prior to the era where you had to purchase physical objects which contained (somehow) recorded data, musicians relied, in one for or another, on tips, patronage and live performances.

Today, with instantaneous and essentially cost-free global distribution, you can take that same basic model and overlay it on a much more robust industry which is somewhat more lucrative for artists. The "pay what you want" price point recognizes the reality of the current scene (where anyone who wants to can get any music for free) and doesn't insult the fan's intelligence, and the $80 deluxe art package creates a premium value that's both highly profitable for the band, and actually worth something to fans. I think a slightly hybridized model that gives the music away for free and says, "pay us if you like it" could be a big winner for artists with less of a dedicated following.

At the end of the day, people appreciate quality, and most are eager to support the things they like. Radiohead is in a somewhat unique position to do this, but other artists (Prince comes to mind) are making similar breaks away from traditional industry models to great success. It's not going to happen overnight, but considering there's been zero innovation from the labels, and online music stores seem to have stabilized in their effect, this is the kind of move coming from artists that could drive some enterprising individuals to really innovate.

However, all of this will almost certainly shrink the traditional industry, as it makes no-talent A&R and radio payola harder to sustain.

These cats http://www.myspace.com/foureyedmonsters - made a near-feaure length movie and offered it up for free. They are selling DVD's to get it in better quality (not feasible for music in my mind), and also cut a deal with a dot-com to get a dollar for every person they signed up.

$40k later they are still growing. Not great money, but not chump change by indie filmmaker standards - it'll pay the bills. And I like the movie.

There isn't a real point to this...... thats why the title was 'tangentially'.