Radiohead: People still want an “object”

by Mathew on January 2, 2008 · 17 comments

Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke still isn’t saying much about how many people downloaded the band’s “In Rainbows” digital release — except to say that the group has done quite well by it, thanks very much — but what he will say is that the idea of a Web-only album is “stark raving mad,” according to an interview with the BBC. Yorke says that people still want “an object” of some kind when they buy music:

“We didn’t want it to be a big announcement about ‘everything’s over except the internet, the internet’s the future’, ’cause that’s utter rubbish. And it’s really important to have an artefact as well, as they call it, an object.”

Is that true? I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t feel any compulsion to have a physical object when I buy music — if anything, I find it cumbersome and kind of a pain — and I bet there are lots of people like me. I think Thom might want to revisit his views on digital-only releases. As it stands, the In Rainbows move seems to have been primarily designed to shaft the traditional record labels, which Yorke has nothing but scorn for.

  • Dan

    My wife and I discussed this…..what do your kids do when they want to explore your music collection? No more Vinyl. NO more Cassettes. DVD's barely last two years with constant use…….How will my kids borrow my DRM iTunes collection? Last thing I want is for my kid to mess with my laptop or iPod. As much as I enjoy the ease of iTunes, I do miss having something to hold and lyrics to read, liner notes. I think it's a loss.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    With all due respect, Dan, I think that's an antiquated way of looking
    at music — although I could be wrong. And I'm not saying that people
    won't still want special-edition CD boxed sets, or posters, or
    T-shirts or whatever. I just think the CD itself makes very little
    sense any more as a music delivery mechanism, and we should probably
    get used to that idea — and I don't think your kids or mine will have
    much interest in CDs or any other physical product for that matter.

  • Dave

    I much prefer the physical object to buying a download.

    First, the practical reasons associated with current terrible downloadable choices:
    1) I get a gold master to keep – highest quality available for the same price
    2) Absolutely no DRM telling me where/when/how much I can play or copy
    3) Hard copy backup on a granular basis

    Other than perhaps some purchasing convenience (not having to leave your home/office) I see no benefit to downloading vs buying a CD (unless you have a serious closet space problem).

    I also understand the simple concept of purchasing an “object.” I see where you are going that younger folks (I'm an ancient 35) care less about the tangeable “thing”, but nothing makes a purchase feel more real or victorious (for those to be first, etc.) than having it in your sweaty hands. If anything, downloading reinforces the concept that music should be cheap or free (separate debate) as it doesn't feel like you bought anything (a digital transmission of an idea?).

    Besides, hrmmpf, I'm old and I like round things that store music …

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Fair enough, Dave — high-quality mp3 files are good enough for me,
    and if I want I can burn my own master copy. And I don't buy anything
    with DRM, so that's not an issue. When I do buy a CD (or get one as a
    gift), the first thing I do is rip it, and then I rarely ever look at
    it again except to maybe play it in the car — and that's only because
    I don't have an audio-in jack in my car stereo.

  • Stu

    Translation: “We need to sell an $80 'object' to the hardcore to try to get something back after all those freeloaders downloaded our digital album.”

  • Dave

    My post-CD purchase looks pretty much the same. High quality MP3 files usually bug me unless they are 256 kbits/s or higher which I have yet to find. Again, other than shopping, no real differences in process. I'm forced to rip right away, you are forced to burn right away if you want a backup (apples to apples comparison of end product). So this really is about shopping convenience and nothing else (other than a bit of physical storage, unless you don't bother backing up your music).

    Funny is my iPod gets it's most use in our cars. Tape deck interface in one, OEM interface in the other – much better than fumbling with CDs in the car. Mildly ironic twist in the discussion.

    So, where does this leave books? Last media form to go online en-masse and heavily built around a consumer's interaction with the “object.”

  • http://ericrice.com Eric Rice

    All I know is that my Blade Runner 5 DVD box set comes with an art book, plaque, two toys, and a gorgeous case. Love the objects and love how many video games are following suit with collectible art books and special add-ons. It's something to have/own/display/etc and retains collectible value or something to be passed down. (I LOVE the records I have from my dad)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I would agree with that, Eric — I like my Blade Runner box set and
    toys too :-)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I'm going to disagree with you on the “bit of physical storage” part,
    Dave — if my mp3 collection was all in CD form, it would take up a
    lot more than just “a bit” of physical room. As it is, it takes up
    virtually nothing, and can be backed up in a matter of minutes.

  • http://www.davidrdgratton.com David Gratton

    Yeah I think Thom is off point there. The physical artifact does have value to certain people – no question. You just need to look at the prices of “collector vinyl”, but the reality of the present CD sales collapse must inform everyone in this industry that the physical artifact is near irrelevant to the future of the recorded music industry.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I couldn't agree more, David.

  • Pingback: Radiohead: People still want an “object” at thirstymind.org: andrew watts’ blog

  • Dan

    Agree that kids may not want the actual CD per se (or tape or vinyl or DAT). That was not my point. The point was sharing the music which goes beyond the 1s and 0s that make up an MP3. As most pre-teen/teens, I was very interested in music and even though my parents had no taste in music, there were some bright spots. Plenty of Aunts & Uncles who were cooler. Flipping through those albums was a good way to spend time as a teen. Having racks of Dead bootlegs was a worthy accomplishment. Somehow having gigbites of dead shows is less meaningful if more convenient. Sitting in front of a laptop(oh the irony stings as I write this) seems just less romantic. Call me antiquated, nostalgic…..I'm still not letting my kids touch my digital music collection for fear of the of the damage they might do beyond a scratched vinyl disc or torn liner notes.

  • Pingback: Radiohead: People still want an “object”-Download Music

  • http://comingupforair.net Matt

    I've had it with CDs. And DVDs for that matter.

    What's the point?

    This also speaks to what kind of people we are. Some people just like accumulating “stuff” and I'm guilty of that on occasion.

    Generally, I have no mental or physical space for clutter in my life any more.

  • everycritic

    “I don't think your kids or mine will have much interest in CDs or any other physical product for that matter.”

    You might want to research this idea a bit more.

    Firstly, the recent resurgence of vinyl points to the exact opposite of what you say above. LP stores are reporting that the biggest customer-set is kids who are bored with the “sterile” download experience.

    Secondly, if people didn't want to own and collect the physical object, there would be no DVDs or books being purchased. People have been able to enjoy free access to books from the libraries for centuries and yet that hasn't deterred them from buying their own. I'm old enough to remember when the only way to see a film was the theater or late-night TV. Once owning private copies became an option, people went crazy for it.

    Thirdly, you're forgetting the populations like small children, the elderly and the developmentally disabled that don't have the cognitive ability to navigate the download process.

    Fourthly, you're forgetting the physical keepsake element. Ever try gift-wrapping an MP3?

    Fifthly, you're forgetting how a great music, book and/or movie collections can add to our home, make it beautiful and share who we are and what we value.

    There are PLENTY of reasons why the physical object will remain.

    God save us from a future of bare rooms with a single computer.

  • everycritic

    “I don't think your kids or mine will have much interest in CDs or any other physical product for that matter.”

    You might want to research this idea a bit more.

    Firstly, the recent resurgence of vinyl points to the exact opposite of what you say above. LP stores are reporting that the biggest customer-set is kids who are bored with the “sterile” download experience.

    Secondly, if people didn't want to own and collect the physical object, there would be no DVDs or books being purchased. People have been able to enjoy free access to books from the libraries for centuries and yet that hasn't deterred them from buying their own. I'm old enough to remember when the only way to see a film was the theater or late-night TV. Once owning private copies became an option, people went crazy for it.

    Thirdly, you're forgetting the populations like small children, the elderly and the developmentally disabled that don't have the cognitive ability to navigate the download process.

    Fourthly, you're forgetting the physical keepsake element. Ever try gift-wrapping an MP3?

    Fifthly, you're forgetting how a great music, book and/or movie collections can add to our home, make it beautiful and share who we are and what we value.

    There are PLENTY of reasons why the physical object will remain.

    God save us from a future of bare rooms with a single computer.

Older post:

Newer post: