Radiohead’s grand “In Rainbows” experiment ended this week. Whether it has been a success, only Radiohead and its management knows. Everybody else can argue about it.
But one thing is for certain: Radiohead put in motion, as The New York Times notes, “the most audacious experiment in years.”
Radiohead is no longer selling the album as a download from the Web site inrainbows.com.
“It’s been the most positive thing we’ve done,” Radiohead’s frontman Thom Yorke said. “We hope you shared the experience with others.”
The move from bytes to bits was not unexpected. Radiohead is transitioning from the pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth experiment to a more traditional sales model as the release of the physical “In Rainbows” disc is due Dec. 31 in the U.K. and Jan. 1 in the U.S.
London-based XL Recordings will release the disc in the U.K., while ATO Records Group will distribute in the U.S. The recording will be on the Radiohead-branded TBD Records imprint. No word on pricing yet.
Additionally, Billboard.biz reminds us that Radiohead is still in talks with the iTunes Music Store to sell its music digitally. The band’s six recordings on the EMI label are a stark omission from the third-largest music retailer in the U.S., as Radiohead has insisted that their albums remain complete and not unbundled for single-song sales favored by iTunes.
In his first major interview since the release of “In Rainbows”, Yorke told the NYT, “It feels good. It was a way of letting everybody judge for themselves.”
The grand experiment set off a firestorm of debate over a variety of topics: the state of the music industry, free vs. paid content, alternative distribution models, the economics of music, bits vs. bytes, the future of independent artists, artist control over their music and distribution, the eventual end of copy-protected (or DRM) music, whether it was successful or not (comScore says no, Radiohead disagrees), and so on.
Other artists followed Radiohead’s lead, notably Nine Inch Nails. The NYT believes that 2007 had two tipping points for music — the superstar free agent and the migration of music to the Internet.
Radiohead sits in the middle of both.