The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

October 20, 2007

Tech, G.P.: Band embraced Internet technology

The world changed a little bit on Oct. 10.

You probably didn't notice, but there certainly are those who did.

Some of those involved are happily celebrating. Others are not celebrating, and the reason is because they were not involved.

A group of British musicians named Radiohead released its seventh album, ``In Rainbows," that day. This, in itself, is not the big deal.

It was the way they did it that was important.

Radiohead used to have a contract with a major record label. The record company controlled all of the distribution of the group's prior albums, including making CDs, pricing, paying the band a share of the money collected, and so forth.

But then the contract ran out, and the group decided not to renew it. Members decided to do all the stuff the record company did on their own. They started by releasing the album for digital downloading on the Internet.

Now, this would not be such a big deal if the group was just a little relatively unknown band. But the group is a big name (maybe not to my generation, but to my kids it is). It's well-known and sells a lot of CDs.

You may have guessed by now that those who are not celebrating are the record companies.

One band may not be such a big deal, but if the idea catches on, it would not be a good thing for them.

And it may catch on.

Many, many people are fed up with big record companies.

Record companies are struggling to ignore the fact that the Internet has changed the world, and people want to download music, in many cases instead of buying the CDs that the record companies make so much money producing.

Instead of embracing the idea of digital downloading, and adapting their business model to reality, they have been bent on seizing control of it so they can continue to make a lot of money.

The trouble is, that's not the way it's going to work out. In today's world, what the record companies have done for many years is becoming obsolete.

The Internet can enable the musicians to do it themselves.

And Radiohead has just rubbed the record companies' noses in it.

Here's what happened, in a little more detail.

The band announced that it was releasing the album as a digital download on its website.

Those who wanted to buy it could order it right on the website, and could actually pre-order the download before it was released. Many did.

The band also is creating a boxed set, consisting of a real CD, extra tracks, artwork, lyrics, and _ get this _ vinyl records of the music. The boxed set can also be pre-ordered, and it is set to be released in the beginning of December.

The cost of the boxed set was set at 40 English pounds (roughly $80).

The price of the digital download of the album was whatever you wanted to pay.

Yes, you read that right. Whatever you wanted to pay. It could be zero.

After all, the cost to produce an individual download file is almost zero, so why not?

Many people paid nothing (except a small transaction charge). Most people actually did pay what they thought it was worth.

Imagine that. Actually paying an amount you think it's worth. What a concept.

Some people even bought the album and paid money for it, not being especially keen on Radiohead's music. Just to make a point.

I have to admit that I am one of those newly created fans of the band. A fan of the band, not particularly of its music.

So how did it all work out?

Well, on the day the album was released, the website was just hammered. So many people were using it that it really couldn't handle it.

The second day it was better, and I could easily go through the purchase and download process.

Although I haven't seen an official number from the band, others have said that in the first two days, the number of downloaded copies was 1.2 million. A million-seller in two days.

Not bad for a do-it-yourself distribution system.

Not good for a greedy, stubborn industry, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at