What are we paying for

24Oct07

Radiohead’s Tips Might Be Higher Than You Expect — The Seminal :: Independent Media and Politics

If the era of the album is truly over, and the era of free music is truly upon us, than this tipping business model just might work in the long term. It’s something we as music fans will have to get used to, but there is no reason to assume musicians won’t be just as successful using this model when compared to their success within the current record industry.

So Radiohead has made some pretty good money on its experiment with In Rainbows, the new album that people were able to purchase at a price of their picking. According to everyone on the internet, this is a paradigm shift that will bring record companies, as we know them, to their knees.

I disagree.  Well, at least partially.

There are two things of notice with the new album. The first is that people can name their price. This, I believe, is an interesting experiment, but I think that part of what people are paying for when they pay as much as they would normally for In Rainbows is the freedom given them by Radiohead. If, however, every artist did this, the going price for an album would probably be quite a bit lower (but probably not zero, I do agree with that).

The second is that the new album is available from Radiohead from their website, with little intervention from a record company. This is far more revolutionary, since traditional record sales require that the CD is physically produced, and few bands lack the resources or knowhow to mass-produce the disc itself. But now any artist can record the MP3s, and even if they don’t have the expertise to run the servers and payments systems, they can just release their music straight through iTunes, probably getting a much larger cut than they would via the traditional route.

If many artists start to go this route, I think we might reasonably call that a paradigm shift. And it might benefit artists and consumers. Artists get a bigger cut and they don’t have to deal with contracts. Consumers get the music much more cheaply. And possibly, the legal but cheaper downloads might deter piracy.

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