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REV: SEPTEMBER 14, 2009

ANITA ELBERSE JASON BERGSMAN

Radiohead: Music at Your Own Price (A)
“No really, it’s up to you.” A short announcement in early October 2007 on www.radiohead.com, the website of British band Radiohead, spoke volumes about the planned release of its new album In Rainbows. The music would be available exclusively as a digital download on the band’s website, at least initially, and would allow each fan to decide how much to pay for it—a decision that fueled intense media speculation about the future of music. Scheduled to take effect on October 10, 2007, the highly unusual plan represented a significant break from the industry standard of fixed prices for music—typically $0.99 for individual digital
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For instance, Radiohead’s third album, OK Computer, was introduced with an epic single, Paranoid Android, which had no chorus, several tempo changes, and lasted six-and-a-half minutes—much longer than the average radio-friendly pop song. The label also sent 1,000 mediaindustry insiders a Walkman with the album “permabonded inside” in order to “have people get to know the record in its entirety,” according to Capitol VP of Marketing Clark Staub.6 For Kid A, the fourth album, Radiohead eschewed a traditional promotional approach, foregoing a single, a conventional music video, and an accompanying U.S. tour.7 Instead, the band released a collection of 10- to 40-second Kid A music “blips,” combining images of nature, animations, and pictures of the band with audio clips, on music television channel MTV, and on the band’s website.8 Tony Wadsworth, president and chief executive officer of EMI (by then Capitol’s parent company) remarked that Radiohead “want[ed] to find other ways of doing what has to be done to get their records into as many hands as possible.” Band member Yorke asserted, “You can say we’ve earned the privilege to do things our way.”9 In 2003, with the release of Hail to the Thief, Radiohead fulfilled its contractual obligations to EMI and chose not to renew its contract. By early 2005 the band had begun to record another album, with no plans to sign a new contract with any record label.10 “I like the people at our record company, but the time

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