Radiohead: comScore totally inaccurate

by Mathew on November 8, 2007 · 15 comments

A New Music Express piece on Radiohead brings with it a rather large knee to the goolies for comScore, which came out with some numbers on downloads of the band’s “pay what you want” album In Rainbows (I wrote about comScore’s results here). ComScore said that its survey showed less than 40 per cent paid for the album, and most paid less than $4. There was quite a bit of skepticism about the results, however, since — as Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses.com pointed out — it was based on just a few hundred people. Well, here’s what the band said in a statement:

“In response to purely speculative figures announced in the press regarding the number of downloads and the price paid for the album, the group’s representatives would like to remind people that… it is impossible for outside organisations to have accurate figures on sales.

However, they can confirm that the figures quoted by the company comScore Inc are wholly inaccurate and in no way reflect definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project.”

comScore has since defended its analysis, according to this MTV story, and there is a statement on comScore’s blog with more detail about the company’s methodology. For anyone who is interested, Canadian musician Jane Siberry has been allowing fans to pay whatever they want for her music for several years now, and keeps a running tally of how many paid and the average price in the sidebar of her online store. More than 90 per cent pay the “recommended” price or higher, and the average price is well above what a song sells for on iTunes.

  • http://blackrimglasses.com ethan

    Matt: can you also do an expose on how press embargos are dumb :)

  • Mathew

    That’s a great idea.

  • hyke

    it stinks, if you ask me, radiohead’s move has been a big failure, but admitting that will be difficult because so many other artists now consider them to be the true kings of rock.

  • http://stuart.blogware.com Stuart MacDonald

    Hmmm. Well, this may be true – it may be that comScore got it totally wrong. But, I can tell you that in other ecomm categories with which I have had a more-than-passing involvement, the comScore sales numbers were pretty darn close to what had actually happened(call it +/- 20%). Now sure, that’s quite a margin, but it’s a lot better than “completely wrong.” I will admit that it was typically based on much more sizable samples and over longer periods of time (e.g. their US numbers were almost always better than Canadian ones, if they even tracked Canadian sales), which could have something to do with it, but still…

  • Jesse

    A big failure? I think not. Aside from the 160kpbs quality mp3s and some server issues, it looks like the whole event was a big success. The major record labels are probably praying that the band won’t release the results from this awesome endeavor.

  • http://www.discursive.com Tim O’Brien

    Ok, hmm, ethan’s comment about press embargoes has me thinking. Let me guess, comScore told press about this before the release and you were under embargo… If this is the case Matt, confirm by not responded to this comment. :-)

    I read this and the first thought was, “Who paid comScore for this?” I was also looking for statistical error figures and sample size, but none of the news outlets that printed this story bothered with such “details”.

  • http://www.farmfreshmeat.com Jamie

    What most people seem to overlook is that no matter who’s numbers you go by, this was a HUGE success. Even if only 40 percent paid for it, and they paid $4 per album on average, Radiohead has made a KILLING compared to what they would have made for selling $1.2 million albums through traditional channels.

    So 40% of 1.2 million = 480,000 x $4 = 2 million in PURE PROFIT. There were no printing costs, no advertising costs, no distribution costs.

    An artist typically might see at most $1.25 in profit for a CD sold via traditional channels through a major label. So Radiohead would have earned $1.5 million from selling the same number of CDs. That is, of course, assuming that they would have sold 1.2 million in a month at $18 a pop, which seems very unlikely indeed. Wouldn’t you expect that among those people who didn’t pay this way, many would have just gotten a copy from friend or bittorrent anyway?

    Bottom line is, even looking at the worst possible scenarios to compare this with old-school distribution, they made out – and chances are they made out WAY better than the worst case scenario. And not a cent went to the increasingly-less-relevant recording labels and RIAA.

  • http://www.discursive.com Tim O’Brien

    @Jamie, yes and no. I think it was a success for Radiohead, but don’t discount the production cost. I think all this really proves is that a band that was already benefited from the massive marketing and distribution of a major label can consider “branching off” on their own after they’ve already established a reputation.

    I think it would be premature to say that such a strategy would work for a relatively unknown band just starting out. In other words, Radiohead is already very well known, they almost don’t need the marketing and PR machine that a huge label provides because people like myself seek out every last piece of Radiohead music they can get their hands on. Such a strategy may work well for a band that already has a reputation.

    This may have been game changing for Radiohead, and ultimately it will put pressure on the major labels to move closer to this model. But, you can’t ignore the fact that Radiohead could only succeed because they are capitalizing on the previous work of a record label.

    (Disclaimer: I paid for the download, everyone I know paid something for the download. I am a sucker.)

  • jbelkin

    What they fail to note is that Radiohead would ONLY make $2-$3 per CD from the record label anyway AND that’s after months and months of accounting – instead, all themoney is already in their account …

    http://2aday.wordpress.com/2007/11/08/radiohead-6-a-download-more-than-the-record-labels-pay/

  • davida

    @Tim: True that Radiohead was successful here because they’ve already been successful in the past, but that’s exactly the point. Once a band has “made it”, what exactly do the record companies do for them? Sure, a record company could be very helpful to a band starting out – and probably deserves a hefty chunk of their revenues. But they shouldn’t be keeping 90% of the profits of a band that doesn’t even require their assistance.

    And you aren’t a sucker for paying for it. I also paid for the album because 1) I like their music and am willing to pay for it, and 2) I want this experiment to succeed so that other bands are interested in trying alternate ways of distributing their music.

  • http://www.discursive.com Tim O’Brien

    @davida, I think the experiment is going to do one of two things:

    1. Push labels to sign bands for longer-term deals which preclude any sort of independent distribution. You sign with us for 20 years, we have exclusive rights for everything until you are 50 years old. The “we want to capitalize on the money we spend on your behalf” clause. OR,

    2. Democratize the industry.

    The pessimist in me thinks that the industry is just going to use Radiohead’s success to clamp down on artists even more. You have to imagine that there are at least two record executives trying to figure out how they can prevent the next big thing from doing this five years from now.

    I agree, I’m not a sucker, I was joking. I should’ve paid much more than I paid. It’s a good album.

  • http://941thesound.com Paul Kay

    Keep in mind:

    Radiohead’s last THREE records were posted online through Napster or whatever file sharing software was popular at the time….

    UP TO THREE MONTHS before the legitimate major label release.

    In reality, Radiohead simply bypassed the pirates and made money in the process.

    Hooray for them…it’s their best record since OK Compuer or The Bends, and they made a tremendous stink in the process. Me? I’ll be buying the big box.

    I paid $10.00 USD for the download and comscore can kiss my bahookie.

  • http://www.btcassidy.wordpress.com BT Cassidy

    The success or failure of the experiment is unknown, as the band have said. So for the people like Hyke who want to say it is a failure, they are, in popular parlance, speaking out of their hats. for people like I, who hope it has been a massive and overwhelming success, we can only speculate.
    The one thing we do know is that Yorke has made his wish come true and given the industry a shake it was long overdue for.

  • http://alwaysnewmistakes.wordpress.com Alex Barrera

    Finally some truth!! I wrote about it last week. I was pretty shocked to see comScore’s figures, as it didn’t match the reality I had seen.

  • Stefan Broadley

    It’s halarious that anyone would call Radiohead’s experiment a failure. Even comscore’s conservative estimates say that Radiohead made an average 0f $6 a download. Considering the average CD sale only earns the band $1 once record companies, retailers, CD manufacturer’s and distribution costs are factored in. What part of SIX TIMES more profitable is considered a failure? Plus they sold 180,000 more copies than their previous album in the same time period.

    It’s pointless looking at how many people paid nothing. What’s important is how many paid and how much? And any way you slice it, they sold more copies and made six times more profit on every sale. I’d label that a success no? Hmmm, who benefits by saying it’s a failure? Anyone?

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