Name Your Price

So, have you heard (here’s my source) about Radiohead selling downloads of their new album on their website where you pay whatever you think it’s worth.

Do you think they’re undercutting fellow artists by not maintaining pricing? I mean just because they’re famous and make all their money off touring and t-shirts doesn’t mean they can just sell a whole freaking album for a dollar.

They also have a box set for sale with 2 CD’s and 2 Vinyl Records (Vinyl?) that goes for $80.

There are parallels to be drawn in the photography industry, I just can’t think of any at the moment.

There Are 19 Comments On This Article.

  1. “I mean just because they’re famous and make all their money off touring and t-shirts doesn’t mean they can just sell a whole freaking album for a dollar.”

    Actually, yes it does. The album is just an advertising campaign for the band – a reason for people to go to a new tour and buy new merch. CD’s are only a product for record companies – they are the photographic equiv of a portfolio book for a band.

  2. There is an interesting take on this on the CREATIVE REVIEW blog. They say Radiohead are placing no value on the music, simply the packaging. But then, as graphic designers, I guess they would say that…….

    There was a big furore about Prince giving away his latest CD with a british paper recently. Apparently he was paid a lot more than he could have expected to make by selling it in shops…… Business is business. Radiohead are cutting out the record company and all middlemen. They can afford to experiment I guess, but I also guess that with all the free advertising that they are getting [including your blog] this may actually turn out to be more profitable. The industry is changing and these are not stupid people.


  3. chris floyd

    What do you mean by “Vinyl?”?

    Vinyl is the only sector of the physical music market that is growing and I suspect it will still be here long after people have stopped buying CDs. The people that buy vinyl love not just music but the actual act of playing music and listening to music and the artwork and the culture that goes with it. To quote the Arctic Monkeys:

    “Over there there’s broken bones
    There’s only music so that there’s new ringtones…”

  4. I’ve seen this business model in at least one other area before. Here’s a TIME Magazine story about restaurants that have no prices on the menu — they just ask that people pay whatever they think their meal was worth:,8599,1572805,00.html

    But people generally go to restaurants and buy music representing themselves as individuals rather than the corporation they work for. There may be real or imagined pressure to pay a fair amount (or more) in order to impress their peers or themselves (e.g. “I’m such a patron of the arts that I paid full price for the new Radiohead album… how much did you pay?”) But in business, it’s different. In the business world, people are rewarded for bringing in a lot for a little. There is more motivation to get the photos cheap, and less motivation (that I can think of) to pay a fair wage to a photographer who sets a “pay what you think it’s worth” pay scheme.

    Besides, the business often works this way already anyway…

    Photographer: Can I shoot for your magazine?
    Magazine: Maybe. How much do you charge?
    Photographer: I could do that shoot for $750
    Magazine: How about we don’t pay you anything, and just give you a photo credit instead?
    Photographer: I’ll take it!

  5. Yeah I guess the reason I couldn’t come up with a parallel is that editorial photographers sell photography to corporations who then display it to the public but wasn’t this the music industry model a few short years ago?

  6. I don’t really see the parallels. Do you think Radiohead will let Nike download a song for $0.25 because Nike thinks that is a fair price to use the song in their next worldwide ad campaign?

    $1 music is for personal use. The majority of people who are buying $1 photos aren’t doing it because they want to use it as a screen saver on their personal computer.


  7. I think Radiohead must have realized that enough people were going to already download/share their album for free that they might make more off the album if thousands and thousands of people pay only a dollar (and some fans will probably pay more for the download). In other words, it factors in when you think of all of the people planning on paying nothing at all. And, as mentioned, if it’s really just an advertising campaign for their tour… it’s working.

  8. I agree with Jeff, i don’t see the parallels.

    Besides, they are not devalueing the music. In fact, they’ll easily be making more money than they normally would if they’d sell the music via a label. most people seem to be missing this.

    Another thing that i’ve often read is that only an already successfull band can do this, because you need the label to promote you to a certain level. I don’t think that’s true either. There are enough bands that became pretty famous without any label, simply via myspace.

    And one thing’s for sure: If i pay 10$ for an album, i’d rather give the 10$ to the artists than pay 10$ for a CD from which 9$ go to the label.

  9. “A Photo Editor” speaks through the limitations imposed by the parochial workplace that defines her world: everything must be capitalized, reincorporated by the spectacle, turned into product. Consequently, we’re left with “undercutting,” maintaining pricing,”make all their money off touring and t-shirts” etc. Yet, all this entirely misses the point.
    It reminds me of the postings of a photo “consultant” on a widely trafficked industry site, in which she lambasted Flickr and declared it “amateur” and a waste of time. It was just about then that some number of designers and art-directors begab scouring Flickr so as to license images from its contributors.
    Radiohead recognize the populist implications of technology and the fact that, like it or not, information is increasingly coming unmoored from the draconian constraints of antiquated distribution methods. By relying on the “wisdom of crowds” as the phrase goes, they demonstrate good faith in their fanbase; indeed, the majority of purchases, thus far, have been close to conventional retail price: most people ARE willing to do the right thing. The recording industry, like publishing, broadscasting, et al, is entering its death throes and this will certainly be looked back upon as a period of tremendous growing pains, particularly for those unable to understand and engage a new paradigm. This is not simply my opinion or analaysis- this is the relaity of what is happening and can be charted throughout every cultural sector that is predicated on selling, distributing, licensing or controlling information. Coincidentally, I happen to think it’s a beautiful thing. Soon…..narrowcasting rules the day and everybody is a star (apologies to Sly Stone.)
    Sure- making some bread is a given, but it would ne naive, to say the least, not to view Radiohead’s decision to market autonomously and without a fixed pricepoint as an acknowledgement of this postmodern, technology-driven marketplace, in which physical product, for so many young people, is meaningless and the “property” is there to be shared.

  10. Michael T. Murphy

    Yeah, but do I have to still read the post-modern rhetoric, or can it just happen? ;>)

    I have a degree in philosophy and it still gives me a headache. I no longer *believe* any philosophy, but there are ideas and guides that are useful ….

    Anyway, this is from a DJ I was e-mailing Monday night:

    Plus, it sounds like you know the raw deals the bands get. They can sell 300,000 copies of an album and walk away OWING the label. It’s really sad. But the middle man is about to be cut out.

    Basically even the best artists are doing micro-stock. That $16.97 CD? They *may* see $.50 per CD after they sell 500,000 and pay back the label!

  11. Eureka!
    These are the parallels I was looking for.
    Thank you Max Ernst for your insight into parochial workplace, capitalized and reincorporated by the spectacle with populist implications of technology, unmoored from the draconian constraints of a new paradigm, narrowcasting rules the day with acknowledgement of this postmodern, technology-driven marketplace.

  12. By selling their album for a $2/pop, Radiohead is making more than they would by going through a major label or the iTunes store. It’s not a loss leader, it’s actually how much it costs to not support a major label. Radiohead is a huge band right now, with a savvy audience – I doubt that Kenny Rogers could pull something like this off.

    They’re taking what a lot of smaller bands have been doing and, because of their current position, are exploding with it into the mainstream press. The buzz they’ve created with this is immense and I expect this to be a resounding success.

    Many artists have already abandoned traditional labels, choosing to sell their music online and playing concerts. They know that they’re making more than they would if they signed up. Sure, it’s more of a grind than a traditional “rockstar” existence, but it’s grown people supporting themselves doing what they love. How can you find fault with that?

  13. With illegal downloading and sharing amongst friends so rampant, everyone getting new music free is inevitable. By letting the fans name the price if they want to download it, it makes the fans appreciate the band even more. Where as if this was sold as a cd, i would’ve gotten it from a friend. Since you can download it for “free”, I’ll probably donate a few bucks.

  14. “Where as if this was sold as a cd, i would’ve gotten it from a friend.”

    My thoughts exactly! I actually did burn a free copy of Radiohead’s last album from a friend. But this one– well, since it will be available straight from the band and I thought the pay-what-you-can idea was innovative and very, very cool– well, I paid $15 to pre-order it, which is more than I would have paid for an itunes download.

    But you know, maybe my head is in the clouds and I live in la la la land, but I find a band that is actually willing to trust me to pay what I can for a download, well, I just found that so refreshing that I wasn’t possibly going to take advantage of them.

    It’s like that Simpson’s episode where Homer takes Lisa to the Springfield Museum and there’s a suggested donation. Homer laughs and laughs and can’t believe anyone would pay when they don’t have to. Me? I guess I side more with Lisa– I’m willing to pay to support the arts or a band I really like.

  15. Yes, I think music parallels MicroStock. Musicians basically sell their art for $1. Most of this goes to the record labels of course, leaving the musicians with pennies on the dollar. It can work out if they have a hit single that sells millions of times. Of course they can make money from this popularity by merchandising and touring…

    The idea of cutting out the gready, evil suits of the record label is genious. The core audience for the group is on the Web downloading right now. They have never heard of a record store.

    Putting their music on the Web does away with cutting CDs, printing and distribution costs and gives them 100% creative freedom. And if they sell for $1, they get $1. Why let the listeners dictate price? Illegal downloading. Why risk that when you can go throw them a buck for the whole album? And there is a gamble that tru fans will pay more. That and if the band sets the price too high, they won’t sell any music, and won’t get their work out to the masses. Remember, popularity leads to touring and merchandising, where the real money is at.

    You want to succeed at anything? Look at what everyone else is doing. Then turn around and go the other way.

    And to answer the question directly, no they aren’t undercutting other bands. It’s not like photography where you are selling a Sunset shot for $300 and I will sell almost the same shot for $1. Each song is unique–it’s not like where talking about one band’s cover of Stairway to Heaven over another.

    More bands will follow, the music industry should be scared.