Radiohead’s “pay what you want” gamble pays off

Radiohead's In Rainbows

People downloaded “In Rainbows” for free, but many also chose to pay

Radiohead’s risky gamble of asking people to pay what they felt was a fair price for their latest album, In Rainbows, seems to have paid off and has now put the music industry on notice.

New business models have been called for since Napster first hit the scene almost a decade ago. Radiohead have shown that a new method can work. Eliot van Buskirk explains the new world of music business in New In Rainbows Numbers Offer Lessons for Music Industry:

Radiohead’s “pay what you want” distribution gamble paid-off despite — or perhaps because of — rampant file sharing, according to new analysis from Will Page, chief economist at the MCPS-PRS Alliance, a British rights organization, and Eric Garland, CEO of Big Champagne.

Radiohead’s notorious release strategy for In Rainbows, which allowed fans to download it for an optional price with a valid e-mail address, was considered to have been a failure by some because the album became wildly popular on file sharing networks almost immediately upon its release.

But Garland and Page’s, “In Rainbows, On Torrents” report, slated to be released on the MCPS-PRS website on Friday, indicates that Radiohead’s strategy was a success nonetheless, contributing to the album topping the charts in both the UK and United States and a successful worldwide tour. When it comes to judging whether an album is a success these days, the old metrics just don’t cut it.

The report found that torrent users traded 400,000 copies of In Rainbows on its October 10 release date, and that it was shared a staggering 2.3 million times by November 3 (chart courtesy of BigChampagne). By comparison, albums by Gnarls Barkley, Panic at the Disco and Portishead released around the same time using conventional means were shared less, the most-frequently shared being Panic at the Disco’s album, which was downloaded 157,000 times in a week — about three times less than In Rainbows’ peak day of trading.

download chart for In Rainbows

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