Over a Third of Fans Pay for Radiohead

A new press release from “global Internet information provider” comScore claims that approximately 2 out of 5 people who downloaded Radiohead’s In Rainbows were actually willing to pay for it:

During the first 29 days of October, 1.2 million people worldwide visited the “In Rainbows” site, with a significant percentage of visitors ultimately downloading the album. The study showed that 38 percent of global downloaders of the album willingly paid to do so, with the remaining 62 percent choosing to pay nothing.

As someone in the majority (i.e., a freeloader), I can explain precisely what led me to pay 0.00 for my download. First, I’m not a big Radiohead fan; I would have never even considered purchasing this album without this gimmick. Second, they never mentioned what the quality of the files would be. Third, I wasn’t 100% cool with giving them my credit card information. Fourth, they let me pay nothing. Fifth, I figured if I really loved it I could go back and pay for it, or wait and buy the physical CD.

Keep in mind that just last week, I happily paid $5.00 for the Saul Williams download. I opted for the 320kbps version and was pleased to find out they embedded artwork, lyrics, and production notes into the mp3 files. Nice touch!

If you were wondering where comScore got the data, “The results of the study are based on data obtained from comScore’s worldwide database of 2 million people who have provided comScore with explicit permission to monitor their online behavior.” In other words: losers who have no interest in privacy.

MP3: Radiohead – “Nude” (live in Copenhagen, May 6, 2006) (courtesy of archive.org)

Previously: New Radiohead Album, Business Model; Saul Williams One-Ups Radiohead; ‘Retha Socks It to the Man.

Update: Radiohead disputes comScore’s figures:

“The figures quoted by the company Comscore Inc are wholly inaccurate and in no way reflect definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project,” read the statement.

“As the album could only be downloaded from the band’s website, it is impossible for outside organisations to have accurate figures on sales.”

A spokesperson for Radiohead said the band’s own figures were “not for public consumption” as “people were still downloading it [the album]”.

The study was based on a survey of the online behaviour of “a few hundred” downloaders, a senior analyst for Comscore said.

“There is a small margin of error. We are confident in our data,” he added.

Uh huh. A few hundred downloaders out comScore’s “2 million” morons who allow themselves to be spied on. Sounds super reliable.

16 thoughts on “Over a Third of Fans Pay for Radiohead”

  1. That’s swell and all, but this whole ‘artists ditching labels thing’ only seems to work for well-known bands who are household names.

    The real question is, can the next Radiohead become a household name without a label to promote them?

  2. Sadly Jake, it seems the answer is yes. With people increasingly viewing music as disposable as chewing gum, artists are going to need all the leverage that real exposure brings. Word of mouth can only get you so far and touring is expensive, as well as promotion and publicity, so…

  3. Then why should a band even bother? Only a miniscule percentage of bands can ever even dream of reaching that level.

    Also, when was this magic time when pop music was seen as anything other than disposable chewing gum? The 70s? Which required punk to knock it down off its high horse…

    Serious music fans have always taken serious music seriously and always will. The “normal” people ignore the bulk of the good stuff and quickly churn through the drivel. I don’t see how this is that much different now than it ever was.

  4. because music wasn’t near as disposable back when i was growing up as it is now. was there always bubblegum trite pop? yes, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. we didn’t have songs like the i are or buy you a drank.

    sure our songs may not have been that much better, but a lot of them are still played and still considered good. even though most of them were one hit wonders. plus we didn’t have mp3’s, computers, and all that jazz which maybe in some ways has made music more disposable.

    and we certainly didn’t have ringtones going to the top of the charts. don’t get me wrong. my generation has had it’s fair share of some bad music, but it’s not near as bad as it is now. not to me anyway.

  5. “The real question for the 21st century is: does a band need to be a household name in order to make a decent living making music?”

    Sure bands can make a decent living. Can they be megarich? No. But I’d say band members can make close to six figures, if not more, without being household names.

    Look at CSS…not a household name by any means, but how much income do you think they got from that iPod commercial? Not only the money from Apple, but the increased CD sales and tickets sold from people googling the song to find out who did it.

    Look at bands like The Shins and Decemberists (are we considering them household names?). I’d go so far as to say those guys all do quite well.

  6. Good examples, Tom. CSS, the Shins and the Decemeberists are exactly the level of bands I was wondering about. Do you think the members of those bands have health insurance? Can they pay the rent, the car payment, and afford groceries? Maybe stash a little bit in an IRA? Buy their girlfriends nice presents? I hope so.

    It’s a different world now. Kiko brought up the expense of touring, promotion and publicity, but that’s so last century. Now, bands get PAID for promotion and publicity (commercials, soundtracks, etc.).

    But yeah, I really wonder how much the non-songwriting members of those bands actually make in a year.

  7. James Mercer has enough to buy the house where Elliott Smith wrote much of his first album. How great a house that is, who knows…

    I think this goes back to Mac’s question of a new patronage system. Will corporations basically underwrite music? How might that change the music being created?

    Way back when, musicians toured the country in cars (not even vans–Hank Williams DIED in the back of a car), played little clubs, did radio spots and jingles…they did whatever they could to make a living. Today, the one negative influence of punk seems to be that musicians have to live by very strict rules imposed by their fans as to how they make a living. How punk is that?

  8. You know Jake, you’re right: I gotta get over that 20th century mentality and embrace a time when not only is the music itself vastly inferior, the preferred medium is mediocre (mp3s), a vast chunk of the audience believes that the creative blood, sweat and tears of an artist should be free, and the artists’ allegiange is not to a fanbase but to the soft drink/telecommunications/car company giant that pays for them to go on the road. Now, that’s progress!

    PS: Dwindling music sales have evened the playing field for non-songwriting band members, since they didn’t partake of the writing half of the royalty pie. And unless they get paid to score a film artists make from movies about the same from commercials: not much. (It’s fun to sell out for peanuts, boys and girls.) Jon Auer of The Posies once said that the most money they ever saw in that regard was from their “Going, Going, Gone” being on the Reality Bites soundtrack. Not the money thet got for the song’s placement but from the SALES of the soundtrack album. Oops, sorry. Paying for music is sooo 20th century.

    “Today, the one negative influence of punk seems to be that musicians have to live by very strict rules imposed by their fans as to how they make a living.”

    Derek, can there be a middle ground between doing it Fugazi style and whoring yourself out to every questionable revenue stream out there (a la Kiss)? I hope so.

  9. The music itself is vastly inferior? Inferior to what? When exactly was the music itself so much better? Seriously. Give me any year and I’ll show you a sales chart where 90% of the Top 100 albums are terrible.

  10. “Derek, can there be a middle ground between doing it Fugazi style and whoring yourself out to every questionable revenue stream out there (a la Kiss)? I hope so.”

    Yes indeed, but will the fans allow it? I don’t know. Who gets to decide when a bdna sells out? Is it when Jeff TWeedy did an Apple commercial? Is it when Willie Nelson did a Gap commercial? Is it when Tom Petty did a $3500 a seat show in the Hamptons? Or is it when Bob Dylan appeared with lingerie sportin’ models for Victoria’s Secret?

    To me, it’s up to the artist to decide how and when the music is used. If fans don’t agree with the use, then they can throw their old albums out. Not everyone can afford Tom Wait’s position on art and commerce.

  11. “When exactly was the music itself so much better? Seriously. Give me any year and I’ll show you a sales chart where 90% of the Top 100 albums are terrible.”

    Yes, of course. But we’re not comparing Britney to Tiffany here. We’re talking about the ones that the blogosphere and so-called tastemakers deem worthy and how they compare to those of the past. In that regard—and I’ll use some random examples that are regarded as the upper echelon of today’s rock/pop—are The Decemberists, The Hold Steady, Interpol, The Shins, and say, Rufus Wainwright the best this decade has to offer? Really? Good grief.

    “To me, it’s up to the artist to decide how and when the music is used. If fans don’t agree with the use, then they can throw their old albums out. Not everyone can afford Tom Wait’s position on art and commerce.”

    True. Although, called me old fashioned, but I tend to attach a sentimental value to the music I love. And I’d like to think that the artists I support see me as more than just a piggy bank. Not some dumb ass who won’t care about being used to shill toothpaste. I expect to hear Britney’s songs in an appliance or cleaning product ad. Not Prince’s. And certainly not a protest song literally stripped of its original meaning so you can sell me a pair of jeans. (“Fortunate Son”, anyone?)

    But here’s the other thing: do you really want to potentially alienate your fans over a piddly amount that in the best of all circumstances will maybe support one member of the band for a year? (And that sole person better be single and childless, otherwise…) I forget what beloved indie band recently let one of their tunes be used in a nationally-aired car commercial and got 18K for it. (Unless you are a major, major act you’re not going top see more than 50K.) If you’re gonna do it, then do it, for Pete’s sake. Waits, on the other hand, turns down millions of dollars in advertising offers for his music all the time. (I’m sure he’s done well for himself but it’s not like he’s got Paul McCartney/Jimmy Page/David Bowie loot, either.) Back in the day, that sort of thing was a given. Now, it’s ballsy and speaks of high ethics. Whether you agree or not with his stance, you’ve got to respect that.

    As for artists surviving in this brave new world, how they get the word out effectively and at low cost is going to determine the fate of many a baby act. Then tour til you drop and sell as much merch as you can. It seems like the album format—ie, a collection of songs—has little life left in the eyes of the consumer. The music biz seems to be headed back to the days of the single as its main vehicle for releasing music and to when record labels—in which ever guise they appear in the future; trust me they’re not disappearing—owned a huge chunk of the artist. A career for a Cadillac, 2.0: the 21st century version.

  12. “Back in the day, that sort of thing was a given.”

    Depends on what day you’re talking about. Country artists of the 30s, 40s, and 50s did commercials all the time. I suppose Johnny Cash is a big phoney sell-out now too. The Beatles licensed their image to everything that could be manufactured.

    You can attach as much sentimentality as you like to a song, you still don’t own it. If you simply can’t hear “Won’t Get Fooled Again” without thinking of CSI or Cadillacs, then I guess you have my sympathy. And I mean that sincerely.

  13. I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely hate it when an established, classic song is used in a stupid ad. “London Calling” in the Jaguar ad, especially.

    But I’ve got no problem at all with new bands selling new songs for use in ads. That’s how I first heard Badly Drawn Boy, Kings of Convenience, and many more…

    I do wince a little when I hear “Let’s go Outback tonight…” That’s the longest fucking campaign in the history of advertising, I think. I hope Of Montreal at least gets paid for each new set of ads that use it.

  14. “The record industry doesn’t have a f—ing clue how to make money. It’s only their fault for letting foxes get into the henhouse and then wondering why there’s no eggs or chickens. Every little college kid, every freshly-scrubbed little kid’s face should have been sued off the face of the earth. They should have taken their houses and cars and nipped it right there in the beginning. Those kids are putting 100,000 to a million people out of work. How can you pick on them? They’ve got freckles. That’s a crook. He may as well be wearing a bandit’s mask.

    Doesn’t affect me. But imagine being a new band with dreams of getting on stage and putting out your own record. Forget it.”

    To put it mildly, there is very little common ground I share with Kiss bassist/vocalist and all-around cringemeister Gene Simmons. But I’ve got to say, while I don’t agree wholesale with the methods in his above remarks to the Reuters news service about the current state of the music business, I’m not gonna argue with the spirit of it. In other words, they let this happen and now it’s too late. And most of the people that care–like Gene–already made their loot, so fuck it.

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