Posted by: Tony Carson | 16 October, 2007

The new format for record sales?

Radiohead could start an avalanche

Mathew Ingram, Ingram 2.0

When Radiohead’s “pay what you want” download experiment was first announced a couple of weeks ago, it seemed obvious that fans (particularly the poor ones) would like the idea. But would it actually work? And would the band make any money, or would most people download it for nothing?

Despite some early glitches caused by a rush of would-be downloaders, and some carping from fans about song quality, the early indications are that the experiment has been a raging success, and that a majority of people are willing to pay as much or more for such an album as they would if they bought it through iTunes or any other traditional method.

In fact, if some of the early reports about the project turn out to be true, the trickle of interest that some bands showed in the idea initially (including Oasis and Jamiroquai, as well as Nine Inch Nails) could soon become an avalanche: according to some estimates, Radiohead may have made over $10-million (U.S.) in a single day.

The day after In Rainbows went on sale on October 10th, music-industry blog Gigwise said it had learned from sources close to the band that Radiohead had already sold more than 1.2 million copies of the album. And while it’s impossible to know what everyone paid for those downloads, industry polls showed that a majority of people buying the album were paying between $1 and $20.

In other words, Radiohead could easily have made over $10-million in the first 24 hours, and likely made substantially more than that in the first two days of offering downloads. And those figures don’t include the number of fans who chose to pay $80 for the deluxe boxed-set CD of the album. Some fans actually paid the maximum amount the system was set up to process: 99 British pounds, or about $200.

Considering the group will keep the vast majority of that estimated $10-million-plus in revenue — in contrast with the small percentage most groups get with the traditional record-label process — more than one band has to be looking at Radiohead’s move as a model for the future.

Meanwhile, even rock dinosaurs Led Zeppelin have apparently decided that the Internet might be good for something (although it’s unclear whether Radiohead had anything to do with it). The group, which until now has been one of the major holdouts in terms of online sales, said on Monday that its music will now be available through iTunes and other online stores.

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