Radiohead: No more free stuff for you

by Mathew on April 30, 2008 · 7 comments

Just as Radiohead’s “pay what you want” download model is being adopted by more musicians and artists — including Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay, The Charlatans UK and others — the band that launched the model says it doesn’t plan to do it again, calling the release of In Rainbows “a one off.” In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, frontman Thom Yorke said that the offering last year arose out of a particular set of circumstances. “I think it was a one-off response to a particular situation,” Yorke told the magazine. “It was one of those things where we were in the position of everyone asking us what we were going to do,” he said.

Although the band hasn’t confirmed it, there was speculation at the time that Radiohead chose to release its new album online first because it knew that leaked tracks were going to make their way onto the Internet soon anyway. A number of other artists, including Gnarls Barkley, have been either moving up their release dates or offering free samples for the same reason. Yorke also said that he wasn’t sure such an offer “would have the same significance now anyway, if we chose to give something away again. It was a moment in time.”

The band may also have been underwhelmed by the number of people who chose to actually pay for the album: according to a survey by the Telegraph of 5,000 users, about 25 per cent either paid nothing or only a small amount (as little as one pence). Thousands of fans also downloaded the album for free using the BitTorrent peer-to-peer network, although some said they only did so because the official Radiohead download site was crippled by a flood of requests.

Coldplay experienced a similar phenomenon after the band released a track from its new album Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends as a free download. According to several reports, the site crashed under the strain on Tuesday. More than 600,000 people downloaded the song in less than 24 hours, according to one report. Other artists have also announced plans to experiment with online delivery in some form or another; even Metallica — the band best known for its vocal criticisms of Napster in the early days of downloading — has said that it may look at offering new music directly to fans instead of using a traditional label.

Despite Radiohead’s statement about not offering “pay what you want” downloads any more, Yorke said the band was going to build on its online connection with fans. “We are about that direct relationship (now) because we are big enough to establish that,” he said. Among other efforts, the band has set up a music ‘mashup’ site where people can upload their own versions of one track from In Rainbows, and also has a social network based on Ning.com called W.a.s.t.e. Central, which has about 12,000 registered users.

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