Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (left), Phil Selway, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood appear pleased with the way their In Rainbows experiment has worked out.
RADIOHEAD at Molson Amphitheatre (909 Lake Shore West), Friday (August 15), 7:30 pm. $35.50-$69.50. ticketmaster.ca.
Radiohead's sold-out Toronto show marks 10 months since the group released their newest album, In Rainbows, on the Internet along with the virtual equivalent of a donation jar.
The "pay what you feel is right" scheme sent shock waves through the troubled music industry, and media pundits quickly heralded the gambit as revolutionary, a selfless show of faith that music fans will pay for what they deem valuable.
But how successful has this experiment been? Radiohead have kept their cards close to their chests on the matter, refusing to release digital sales figures. But that hasn't stopped the speculation.
A recent study by the MCPS-PRS (Britain's version of music copyright group SOCAN), along with an Internet monitoring group called BigChampagne, says the group's fans haven't been as loyal as singer Thom Yorke had hoped. It reported 2.3-million illegal downloads of In Rainbows within four weeks of its release (400,000 in the first day), a far larger number, the study estimates, than that of legal transactions made through Radiohead's website.
As far back as November, comScore, a company that monitors the digital world, claimed that about 1.2 million visited the band's website and downloaded the album, 62 per cent of whom took it for free. Among the 38 per cent who paid, the largest group (17 per cent) coughed up less than four bucks, while 12 per cent paid iTunes-like rates of 8 to 12 bones. At best, that works out to around $2.5 million.
Radiohead were quick to rebuff the comScore report, stating that the figures were "wholly inaccurate and in no way reflect definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project."
Yorke told Wired magazine in December that "in terms of digital income, we've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever." This statement likely has more to do with their digital royalty agreement with former label EMI (which was zero, according to Yorke) than with profits from paid downloads.
For the industry, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the MCPS-PRS report is the fact that users chose peer-to-peer and torrent applications to download In Rainbows over a technically free legal option. Does this mean even if you essentially give your album away, people prefer to steal it?
Not necessarily if you're a Nine Inch Nails fan. Trent Reznor pulled a similar move when he proclaimed his latest, The Slip, completely "on him." According to NIN, it was downloaded 1.6 million times before its physical release a few weeks ago, a number that dwarfs the suspected number of illegal downloads.
Perhaps Girl Talk's new album, Feed The Animal, will prove to be a better comparison. The red-hot mash DJ just released his latest on the same Radiohead tip-jar model. Girl Talk (aka Greg Gilles) reasons that any form of music purchase these days is essentially a donation. If you purchase a CD, you're donating to a particular cause.
Eric Garland, co-author of the study, says online piracy thrives because the venues are well liked and habitually used, something record labels must acknowledge and work with rather than control or suppress.
"In a digital arena, consumers go to the venues where they feel comfortable. What we've learnt from the ambitious and admirable experiments of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails is that a large part of that comfort is the ability to stay anonymous," he says.
"A short (somewhat cynical) conclusion would be: even asking for a voluntary payment is enough to keep the habitual pirates away."