There was an old Saturday Night Live fake ad about some bank whose sole function was to make change. The spoof had the mixture of trustworthiness and responsiveness that is the hallmark of most ads for financial institutions, right down to the founder who, when asked how he could make money solely making change, responded in an eager tone, "Volume."
The ad came to mind as I pondered Radiohead's decision to release its new album, In Rainbows, as a digital (DRM-free) download on Tuesday, October 10th, just 10 days after announcing it. (There's a deluxe boxset to be released in December, with a physical version of the regular CD scheduled for sometime in 2008.)
There are probably countless bands who are giving away music for free, but none with 1% of the popularity of Radiohead. If you go to the site and ask to buy the download, you can indeed enter "0" as your desired price of the digital download of the album. But Radiohead is probably banking on the goodwill of its fans and the interest of other music fans to generate a fair amount of change.
Other music fans like me. I'm not alone in saying OK Computer is one of the best albums of the past 10 years, but most of the rest of Radiohead's post-OK work has left me cold. So it's safe to say that if In Rainbows was appearing at my local record store in a physical format next week, I would not be picking it up. Nor would I be scouring a bunch of torrent sites looking to download it for free -- it's just not what I do.
But this morning I went to the site and put down 2 British pounds (about $4 US) plus about a $1 service charge to download it next week. Why? Well, in part it's the musical equivalent of playing the Powerball lottery -- I always viewed $1 I paid when the pot got large and the office collected as entertainment, not as investment. This is much the same, no? It's also part of the giddy glee in helping to make major label executives nervous about whether they can continue business as usual.
So here are my questions to you:
1) Was I too cheap? A kids' musician e-mailed me last night saying he'd put down $10 -- a dollar a song. But I think he's a bigger fan than I am. It might be cheap, but $4 is $4 more than Radiohead would have received from me in the absence of this experiment. But if Spoon did something similar with their next album, I guarantee I'd've put down $10. Maybe more.
2) Is this a model that can at all work in the kids' genre? I've always pooh-poohed the idea of digital downloads because I think kids like the physicality of things, and mp3s don't have a lot of physicality, know what I mean? But if somebody like, say, Dan Zanes did something similar, I think he'd probably make a fair amount of change. (Though I'd certainly miss the album packaging, which has always been top-notch with his work.) Of course, he's already reaping all the profit from his CDs, something that Radiohead, while they were on a label, did not, so perhaps his incentives to do so is less...
Readers, musicians, thoughts?