Radiohead to Release New Album, Shift Paradigm (Possibly)

Radiohead drink to a (potentially) new record-industry paradigm.

As everyone with an Internet connection knows by now, Radiohead will release the follow-up to 2003's Hail to the Thief, titled In Rainbows, on Oct. 10. In a crushing blow for music journalists everywhere, no advances will be supplied; we wretched scribes will have to wait until the digital release date to hear the album, like... common folk. The indignity of it all.

On Dec. 3, CD and vinyl versions of In Rainbows will become available for the princely sum of £40 (about $82). To download the album, you can pay whatever you wish, or nothing at all—seriously.

Radiohead appear to be releasing In Rainbows with no aid from a record company; their contract with EMI/Capitol ended after Hail to the Thief. This new approach could signal a paradigm shift in the way wealthy, established bands operate. Major label execs will be closely watching how Radiohead's ploy plays out—and likely increasing their Valium intake.

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For more details, point your browser to Radiohead's official website and/or read Ethan Smith's article in the Wall Street Journal (?!) (You have to be a subscriber to read the whole thing, but some nice person I know cut and pasted the entire piece, which you can read after the jump).

Radiohead to Let Fans Set Price of Downloads By ETHAN SMITH October 1, 2007

In an unusual test for the music industry's transition to digital sales, the top-selling British rock band Radiohead said its new album will initially be available only as a digital download on the band's Web site, with fans choosing the price they are willing to pay.

The plan, announced on Radiohead's Web site last night, appears set to challenge numerous aspects of established music-industry business models. Fans are free to name their own price for a digital-download version of the 10-song album, "In Rainbows." "It's up to you," a message reads when a user clicks on a question mark next to a price box that has been left blank. A subsequent screen adds: "No really, it's up to you."

By letting consumers dictate what they will pay for a digital copy of the album, the band will test theories of online pricing that have been the subject of much speculation in recent years -- most notably, the notion that fans will pay a fair price for downloads if given the freedom to do so on their own terms.

At the same time, the digital-sales setup goes against the grain of the standard set by Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store, where music is generally priced at a uniform 99 cents a song and $10 or so an album. Radiohead hasn't made its music available for sale on iTunes, apparently because the band wants to sell only full albums and not let users pick and choose songs.

The site said download orders placed now would be fulfilled on Oct. 10. A few big-name bands have allowed their albums to be streamed free online before release, allowing them to be sampled before purchase.

Testing a different extreme of consumer behavior, the Web site is also offering a physical version of the album that costs £40 (about $82), a price that buys fans a custom-manufactured slipcase containing two vinyl LPs and two CDs with a total of 18 songs on each set, plus a variety of artwork and other printed material. The site said the package would ship on or by Dec. 3.

The move could answer a question that has hung over the music industry for four years: How would the band release its music now that it has fulfilled its contractual obligation to EMI Group PLC, the major label company that released its first six studio albums? The 2003 album "Hail to the Thief" was the last studio release required under that contract, and the music industry has been abuzz with speculation about how the band would release its music once the deal was up.

Radiohead's Web site didn't explicitly say that no record company is involved in the process, but a person familiar with the situation said the process of creating, manufacturing and selling the album was being done without any record label's involvement. The band's managers, at Courtyard Management, London, couldn't be reached.

The transactions are being handled by W.A.S.T.E. Products Ltd., based in Oxford, which has previously sold memorabilia and merchandise such as T-shirts for the band.


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