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in Filmmaking
on Oct 1, 2007

You don’t have to be a massive Radiohead fan (like me) to be interested in the sudden and unexpected news today about the release of their new album, In Rainbows. (Thanks, Pitchfork, for the heads up.) With this new release the band is busting the music retailing paradigm in ways that filmmakers might think about as well.

The Radiohead site, linked above, allows you to buy the album, but it’s a bit, uh, mysterious, so you may as well get all the details from the Pitchfork link. But, here’s a synopsis of what Radiohead is doing that’s different:

1. The hugely popular group, whose major label deal with Capitol/EMI has expired, has not signed with a new label. They are releasing the album themselves.

2. While most huge album releases show up on album advance lists for weeks if not months, In Rainbows will be released very soon — on October 10.

3. You can pre-order the deluxe version of the album now in something called a discbox — it comes with a CD of the album, two 12″ vinyl versions, an enhanced CD with more music as well as artwork and photos, and artwork and lyric booklets. The whole thing comes encased in a hardback book/slipcover.

4. If you pre-order, you pay 40 euros now and receive your album sometime before December 3. But, you also get the download on October 10.

5. And, get this — just want the download? Pre-order that and pay whatever you want. That’s right, spring the bucks for the deluxe collector’s edition or just give Radiohead whatever you think it’s worth it to you to have their new songs on your iPod.

6. No word yet on a traditional single-disk CD release. My guess is that one will arrive sometime as well, but the band’s strategy of focusing first on the high-end product (the deluxe edition) and the cheapo one (the digital download) is a cool experiment in music retailing in the digital age.

UPDATE: The Radiohead news is already bouncing across the blogosphere, even scoring a link on the Drudge Report. In the Daily Telegraph, Shane Richmond blogs about it and concludes thusly:

None of the things Radiohead are doing with this is unique. All of them have been developed and used by other artists for quite some time. But this is Radiohead. When one of the world’s biggest bands does something like this, it will get noticed and it will start people thinking.

Record labels survived for years on the value they added to the process. They made it possible for bands to make records and get them into the stores and then used their marketing weight to get those records played on the radio and featured in magazines. In the process they made enormous profits by overcharging fans and underpaying artists.

They no longer add any value to the process. In fact, they act as a barrier between fans and musicians. It’s time to move them out of the way and Radiohead have just showed us how.

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