A shocking new report out today has sent shock waves through the music industry after the revelation that giving away stuff for free is actually really popular.
Will Page, an economist for the MCPS-PRS alliance (perhaps the world’s longest acronym) and Eric Garland (boss of Big Champaign – a company who apparently do “online media measurement”) have taken a look at Radiohead’s In Rainbows album that they released last year with the gimmick of “pay what you want to pay”, and have come to the conclusion that it was actually a pretty good idea.
At the time this shocked the industry by subverting the usual business model of “poor millionaire musicians being ripped off by the evil record labels” but Page and Garland reckon that Radiohead’s innovative approach was actually worth all of the free advertising.
Interestingly though, the report found that releasing the album as a potentially free digital download didn’t cut piracy – giving tracks away as DRM-free audio files seemed to in fact increase how much it was being pirated with some 400,000 copies of the album being torrented on the 10th October release day alone, with this figure going up to 2.3 million by 3rd November – just three weeks later. This compares to artists who released albums in the conventional way around the same time, such as Panic! At the Disco, who’s album was only torrented 157,000 times in its first week.
So why was it successful? Seemingly because of that unquantifiable thing marketing-types talk about called buzz. On the week of release, everyone knew about the new album, everyone wanted to get the album because everyone else had it, the Radiohead world tour sold out, and Radiohead were briefly the big trendy in-thing and not the dreary and dull band I thought they were. But then again, I like ska, and practically everything else is dreary and dull compared to that.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the report is that album piracy is apparently proportional to the popularity of the band… with the amount of awful DRM (etc) slapped on by the record companies having seemingly no impact.
Thom Yorke has previously said that the In Rainbows release was a one off… I wonder if he’ll reconsider?