British rock group Radiohead stunned the music industry on Monday by announcing that fans could pay whatever they want for the band’s new album, In Rainbows. Radiohead, who recently split with their record label EMI, will make In Rainbows available for download on Oct. 10. Fans can also buy a physical version, which includes two vinyl LPs and an expanded CD package, for around $82.
“In the war to redefine the music industry, the Delaware has been crossed,” said Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times. “Artistically minded rock” is becoming “more like classical music or jazz,” and Radiohead is taking it to “a place where it can fully flourish as a serious form of expression, constrained only by the market demands of a self-selected niche audience.” Pop music may be “evolving,” but “rock as we once knew it—rock that arrogantly and gracefully makes its own universe, the way Sgt. Pepper did, or Born to Run or Nevermind—doesn’t want to die.” And Radiohead is here to save it.
Believe it or not, Radiohead fans might be ripping themselves off, said Robert Cyran, Rob Cox, and Mike Verdin in The Wall Street Journal Online. Most CDs cost about $16 on average, and about $6.40 to manufacture, distribute, and sell in stores. But “these costs are essentially zero" with downloads. On top of that, the band “pulled the ripcord on EMI, so it doesn’t have to share profits or help pay the label’s overhead.”
Radiohead’s move is fascinating, said Neil McCormick in the Telegraph, and not just from a business perspective. “It is less a model for the future of the music business than a moral experiment on human nature.” A large percentage of “predominantly young, computer savvy consumers treat music as a free commodity,” but obviously “someone is paying for the music to be made.” Now Radiohead “have thrown the whole thorny problem back into the hands of music fans,” forcing them to “either reward the musician, or acknowledge their own greed.”