End of the Rainbow – doing it the Radiohead way (It’s all ’bout the money Pt3)

There’s something magical about rainbows, and perhaps that’s why Radiohead’s latest album is called “In Rainbows”. It’s an album unlike any other: the first album by a big band to make use of the digital age, to be distributed primarily online, to ask the user to decide how much they want to pay for it.

Brian Message, the group’s manager, explained: “We realised that, by using the internet for the delivery of the album, we could reach 173 countries and it would cost us less than three cents a copy for distribution.”*

This strategy meant that it didn’t matter that most people decided to download the album for free, because the band lost nothing in distribution. But whatever they lost to free downloads and peer-to-peer file sharing, they gained in publicity and so over 6 thousand people showed up to see the first concert of the album.

Brian MessageMessage realises that in the digital age there is a need for a change of strategy “We believe file sharing by peer-to-peer should be legalised. The sharing of music where it is not for profit is a great thing for culture and music.”*

It also helps to create a deeper relationship between the artist and the fan, which can then be cashed in on through merchandise, live concerts and other creative solutions such as selling the album on a USB flashstick along with high-quality digital album art.


Radiohead may be the first big band to use this idea, but it’s merely an adjustment of an idea smaller bands have been using since the dawn of web 2.0.

Amanda promotes her music on MySpaceMySpace allows users to set up Band Profiles that can include videos, gig guides, links for ordering CDs and interaction with their fans. The pages automatically start playing audio from the bands as samples which can be made available for download (for free or at the request of some donation).

One SA band took the idea of distributing their own music using the digital platform to the extreme by launching it on mxit. The band, called III, sold over 50 000 tracks this way.

The one thing that all of these ideas have in common is that they almost completely obliterate the need for the big media mongrels to act as middle men. Artists are now able to distribute their own content directly into the hands of their fans. While some labels, such as South African StereoType Records, realise the potential of this technology and  make it work for them (providing free downloads of some artists’ songs for a month following release to create exposure), many still remain blind.

In conclusion

In the digital age, money still exists in media, but it’s in a different place to where it used to be. Production costs are not as great, reproduction costs are often non-existant. So how do you make money out of something people can get for free? You don’t. You find something else to make money out of.

At the end of the rainbow...You use the fans, you give them creativity, you give them free music and allow them to use your content to make promos for you. You give them the opportunity to come and see you live. You sell them new and innovative merchandise – stuff they can see and touch and show their friends.

Piracy is an issue and probably always will be, but it doesn’t have to be to the extent it is now. If media distributers alter their business models in the ways I have shown in the past 3 installments (or even in new inovative ways I haven’t shown), they can make cyber culture work for them instead of striking out against it.


*interview with the Irish Times, 1 May 2009.


~ by tallulahlucy on May 20, 2009.

One Response to “End of the Rainbow – doing it the Radiohead way (It’s all ’bout the money Pt3)”

  1. ermm.. nice idea … this is great.. thank you..

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