Radiohead and the New Model of Music Distribution

Radiohead is the face of the evolving business model of the record industry. As most people know, their last record, In Rainbows, was first released as a digital download in 2007. The kicker is that fans could pay whatever price they saw fit.

By releasing their own album and bypassing their former record label, Radiohead made a bold statement. Bands are now realizing that the business model that record labels use is antiquated. Up until recently, if you wanted to release a record, you had to get signed to a record label. Now with resources such as MySpace, bands can more easily get their music heard.

Following this trend of bypassing the record label bureaucracy, In 2008, Trent Reznor released his album “Ghosts I-IV” on the Nine Inch Nails website. It was available as a free download and offered a $300 Ultra-Deluxe limited edition package. Two weeks later, Nine Inch Nails released “The Slip” as a free download on their website.

The big record labels have tried to combat piracy and protect copyrights through a myriad of lawsuits, but haven’t gotten very far. It’s time for a change in the business model. Artists are beginning to bypass the record labels, which is only contributing to the demise of the record label.

However, in June, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth criticized Radiohead for their supposed “marketing ploy” in releasing In Rainbows. Gordon said:

“It seemed really community-oriented, but it wasn’t catered towards their musician brothers and sisters, who don’t sell as many records as them. It makes everyone else look bad for not offering their music for whatever.”

In my opinion, Radiohead is embracing the changing model of music distribution. Other bands can follow their lead by releasing their albums online, even if they aren’t offered for free. By releasing their album straight to the consumer, Radiohead has created a very user-centered method of distribution. People want easy access to music, and Radiohead has given them just that.



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