Radiohead’s CD release utilizes latest technology trends


Those who said the free market couldn’t be trusted are wrong, once again. There is a whole new kind of free gracing our markets these days.

According to The Chicago Sun-Times, on Oct. 12, the British band Radiohead, rather than signing a new record deal, has offered its fans the choice of paying what it thinks is fair as consumers – which includes paying nothing at all – for its new 10-song album, “In Rainbows.”

Those who believed Radiohead would come out of this unusual business decision with moths flying out of its pockets will be surprised to know, the band members said, “two-thirds of the nearly one million fans who have accessed the music have chosen to pay an average price of about $10.”

That’s a large sum of revenue without the conventional worry and cost of falling demand because of the illegal downloading and high compact-disc prices. More importantly, the option to download music for free from the band’s site means no one could download it illegally.

Radiohead thought outside of the proverbial CD case and utilized today’s technology to avoid the fixed costs of producing and distributing music on a physical CD. The band’s music is now a digital file, and the cost is based on the quality of artistic production alone.

By trusting their consumers to support them and give feedback in monetary form, the members of Radiohead have created a successful financial venture considering they already have received the returns they expected.

Since the technology to download music became available to the public, record companies have aggressively pursued restrictions on illegal music downloading and punishment of violators of the restrictions, as they did in the case of a single mother from Minnesota.

The Associated Press reported on Oct. 5, Jammie Thomas has been ordered to pay $222,000 for 24 songs she illegally downloaded. But with the anonymity and limitless capacity for downloading, violators still run a very low risk of being caught stealing artists’ intellectual property.

Record companies blame these multitudes of lawbreakers for the fall in record sales. While illegal downloading might be a slight contribution, it’s quite possible illegal downloaders wouldn’t have bought the record if they couldn’t download it for free in the first place. Also, it could be consumers are simply boycotting the rise of CD prices. Regardless, artists ultimately suffer the consequences, unless they offer incentives to raise sales like Radiohead.

The Chicago Sun-Times embedded a poll in the article asking readers what price they would choose to pay for a downloaded music album.

Though the options offered on the poll only allowed the choices of $1, $5 or $10, almost 50 percent, or more than 500 votes cast, opted to pay $5 for a downloaded album, and nearly 30 percent would pay $10.

Fans who liked the album were more likely to pay for it, thus encouraging the production of more songs of similar or better quality.

Instead of sticking to the traditional business models for music production and distribution, record companies need to keep up with the technological advancements available to consumers and artists to avoid becoming obsolete. While Radiohead still uses a publicity firm to promote their music, their success indicates they’ve already exceeded the expectations of their fans in a new and innovative way, without the help of a label.

Beyond the music industry, it will be interesting to see who else would consider adopting this model and in what kinds of markets it will succeed or fail.

While there’s still no such thing as a free lunch, Radiohead has given its consumers – not the producers – the freedom and responsibility to pay the price they believe the music is worth. We should expect nothing less from any free market.

Christina Forsberg is a senior in economics and English literature. Please send comments to