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.