As you’ve probably heard, Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows is available via a unique purchasing scheme:

  • Online-only sales, direct from the artists.
  • International: charged in GBP, but you can buy from anywhere in the world and the store will convert currency via credit card. (This detail is usually left out of the discussions; one problem with standard label distribution is that it’s often limited to certain countries.)
  • DRM-free download sales as donationware: choose what you think is the right amount to charge, the download equivalent of passing the hat.
  • Or spend a bunch of cash on physical media: GBP40 gets you a box set with CD and vinyl. (“Preorders” still seem to be available for both the download and forthcoming box set, in case you missed the boat)

Early buzz is that the superfans are going for the physical media (which also includes the downloads free), and that the download / pay-what-you-will has encouraged some serious goodwill. Of course, it helps that this is Radiohead. After all, an entire label has been doing this sort of thing for several years — if you don’t know them, check out Magnatune.

There are various broader interpretations, usually along the “labels are dead” lines. On the contrary, I think this demonstrates the range of choice for artists and labels alike when it comes to distribution. And if DRM for music just keeps getting deader and deader. (Music DRM: “‘Tis but a scratch.” A scratch? Your arm’s off!)

I did get my downloads last night, and here’s a bit of bad news. The MP3s are fixed-rate 160kbps, so audio is a little mediocre. Why not OGG, FLAC, AAC, or higher-bitrate MP3? (You can now buy Radiohead albums from Amazon encoded as VBR 260kbps MP3.) There’s also no digital album art. That’s not to take away from how huge this is coming from a band of Radiohead’s stature, but I do think there’s still some room for improvement. (If you’re the next Radiohead, for instance, you can one-up them by including PDF art and FLAC.)

Oh, yeah, and what about the music? I want to give it a couple more listens before I say too much about that … it’s lovely, it’s not OK Computer, but you knew that.

Thoughts on the new album? How much did you pay? Got a brilliant self-distribution scheme of your own?

  • mike

    you wouldn't expect them to give you lossless audio for the download. if you want better quality you buy the physicals. i think that's part of the idea. mp3s are lower quality of course, so let people pay what they want to for that. if they want lossless then they can buy the physical.

  • Dan

    It’s not OK Computer??

    No shit, Sherlock.

    1998 called and wanted you to know it's 2007.

  • Are you sure, Dan? I'm not so sure. I've got my copy of ReBirth running, that may mean it's 1998. Although everybody's talking about trackers, so it might actually be 1991. And people are awfully excited about this whole NES thing, so maybe it's actually 1986. I'm really not sure any more. OK Computer still sounds pretty fresh, so it can't possibly be 2007.

    In other news: White Album. Dude. It's completely different from Help. (Like I said, I'll give it a few more listens and wait until I have something intelligent to say, as demonstrated by counter-example above.)

  • @mike: no, I agree, lossless is asking for a bit much. But higher-bitrate MP3 is getting to be pretty standard; 160 is on the low side. The 260-320 range sounds great, as do slightly lower-bitrate AAC/OGG. And I can see lossless down the road as the bandwidth ratio becomes better.

  • simonfrench

    I paid a measly £3 for my copy, mostly out of fear that I was going to get nothing at all!

    Should I be feeling bad? Nah. Since I'm going to buy the discbox.

    I love Track 10. The rest is so-so.

    I'm sure I'll love it after a few listens though.

  • Paid 10 pounds, plus the credit card fee. So far, so good. Nothing grabs me as a major standout, but I think it's more consistent than Hail to the Thief. Time will tell. Love the grim keyboards on All I Need, though.

    But about that credit card fee… at 45p or about one U.S. dollar, does it REALLY cost a dollar to transact? No, it doesn't. This is an issue I know well because I've been working on it for a U.S. group (see on this for a year now. These fees don't just cover transaction costs, they're a major revenue source for the banks. They are also where they get the money for credit card rewards. Most of the time, it gets stuck on retailers. This time, it's stuck on us.

  • Damn that site is slow. Wondering why. Well, I am about to pay 5 pounds, just because of the bitrate (as you can read everywhere) and the fact, that you dunno what you get, besides the fact it is Radiohead. Maybe I know something about this album, whenever the system decides to accept my payment. =)

  • I payed mine 5 pounds.

    Yes, indeed some artwork would have been appreciated and even more a proper bitrate…

    BUT the main problem is that I just heard and found a CLIPPED PEAK in track 4 @ 2'32"!!! And opening the files with an audio editor you can find many more not as audible…

    Maybe they don't know that many mp3 encoders clip with audio material which is too loud. I experienced that with my own mastered tracks too. Before encoding it is better give master tracks a little headroom (say -3dB).

    Do you know if there's a way to contact them or WASTE and "complain"?

  • Machines

    Well, the low bitrate is killing it for me. A 160kbps MP3 doesn't really encourage me to do anything. This whole thing had me hyped until that was revealed. For a band that's always been on point with their musicianship and audiophile type appreciation for quality, I find this tough to swallow. And I'm certainly not paying $80 for a box set. Pretty major flaw in the great idea I think.

  • Chrisedmo

    I quite like that they made the MP3 lower quality.. thats the one that will get spread around and downloaded for free.. so i think it deserves to be lower quality.. I think they sohould have done two versions.. one high qualtiy file for people that paid and the 160 version for c*nts that didn't.. im a snob and bought the £40 disc box.. i can't wait to hear the vinyls.

    Oh yeah.. great album. really pleased with it. can't wait to hear the other disc.

  • audioworld

    I paid 7 pounds for the download version. Did not download yet, as I thought the site will be slow on the first day.

  • Dan

    Didn't mean to sound like such an ass before, but every time Radiohead releases an album, everyone holds it up next to OK Computer, comparing it, as if they expect the same thing over and over and over.

    But your blog ROCKS. Freshly delicious and minty chocolaty-licious every day.

    Group hug?

  • Heheh, no worries, Dan; I just couldn't resist.

    And yes, I'm glad it's not OK Computer II, as well. I do feel like the songwriting is still not as focused these days, as I did with The Eraser, which is a different issue. But it does have a couple of tracks that really shine. Maybe not enough to buy an $80 box set, but well worth a listen.

  • arcaneparadox

    I think that all the complaints are valid, but come on its RADIOHEAD!! I think its an awesome album. I spent the 80.00USD$ for it and cant wait for vinyl. (All I Want has some serious mixing possibilities) I think their progression in song writing has seemed to follow the progression of the technology and their music has seemed to become timeless but always a footprint of the time it was made.

  • I don't quite get the complaining about 160 kbps. Sure it's not the greatest, and I would have liked to see 256kbps, BUT it's better than most EVERYTHING on iTunes, which is all still 128kbps. Also, imagine the bandwidth and server demands the band has to deal with! 160 ain't bad.

  • If you're the next Radiohead, your chances of paying your bills in this fashion are next to 0.

    The world cares that Radiohead is doing this because A) they're damn good and B) the big label machine has been hyping the crap out of them for like 10 years now.

    Even if my band was as good and fresh and all that as Radiohead is, the blogosphere would not be on fire that we were giving our new album away for "whatever people feel like paying".

    They can do this because someone else already did their marketing for them.

    I got no love for the major labels, but there are too damn many good musicians in the world for everyone to be a rock star. It takes marketing for that. And marketing costs money, therefore albums cost money, etc, etc …

    So … there you have it … bitter guy posts comment on blog … he is not as good as radiohead … film at 11.

  • Gorbon

    to Chrisedmo:

    You're very naive if you're really thinking that only this 160kbps version will be found on P2P networks. In very short time (if it's not there already) there will be 320kbps version, plus scanned artwork etc. You really think that NOT ONE person who buys "fan" edition won't make mp3's of it and spread it on P2P networks? I mean, even Jan Jelinek's "ICE Compsitions" turned on P2P, and that was limited edition of 100, which cost 100€.

    If Radiohead was following the same line of thought, then they are also quite naive. Anyway, they are practically giving it away (although enormous amount of people will pay something for it, many even more than they would pay for it on iTunes, so it's somewhat different from "gift"), it couldn't matter less if they did 160kbps version vs 320kbps version with artwork. It's not like anyone who planned to buy discbox would suddenly have second thoughts if there was 320kbps version available.

    IMHO 160kbps somehow undermines the whole concept (not that I care much, since I wouldn't be downloading it no matter what bitrate, it's just that the concept was interesting).

    As for the concept – I think it may easily prove that they will make much more money this way, than they would by "regular" means.

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  • A.

    Has anybody LISTENED to the album on good speakers?

    It doesn't sound as bad as you would think, at 160kbps.

    just my humble opinion.

  • Yeah I got the discbox but it wouldnt let me overpay for that, so I got the download too (for a bit extra).

    I agree in theory 160kbps is a bit low, but having listened to the album a couple times on my monitors, I didn't notice any objectionable mp3 artifacts… It does seem a bit loud overall, though. Kinda feels like everything went through a light distortion.. that might be intentional.. who knows.

  • and no one gave me jack crap for my free ep!

    I guess I'm no tom yorke though…

  • at the current rate, if everyone gave them a 1$ for the album, they would be making about the same as royalties.

    so they are going to make shitloads.

  • Luke

    There are a bunch of other places doing this.
    (these guys are the first ones I heard of)

    Though I think it's cool that a band who can afford to give away music is finally doing so.

  • J-chot, fret not — just downloaded for a listen. We actually need a way to bring everybody's music together. The cdmMusicStore. Now, first I just need to decide on a proprietary form of DRM … then, of course, we'll hire private investigators to look for people pirating the music…

    And A., yeah, I agree, 160kbps sounds pretty good minus that clipping issue mentioned above (doh!). It's tough, though, without hearing the original source. When I've tested my own material, I do start to hear data compression below about 192kbps with MP3. That's stuff I know pretty well, though…

  • Everyone seems really excited about the "new" distribution paradigm that Radiohead has ushered in. The only problem is that it's not new – bands have been offering affordable downloads for years. The big difference here is that it's an A-list band and very few A-list bands can do something like this under the terms of their major label contract.

    The "pay what you wish" approach is bound to spawn a horde of copycats. Each will receive less media attention and hype than those who came before, until the approach is rendered more-or-less useless by competition and apathy. It'll gradually dawn on bands that they still need pretty damn good PR to assure that they get FM/satellite/HD/net stream play, and they'll find themselves once again beholden to entertainment conglomerates for PR and buzz — in return for a major cut of the action. Like it or not, very few skilled musicians have the business savvy to succeed in a cutthroat industry without professional help. This is especially true of extremely young and inexperienced acts.

  • James, I agree and I don't. There are plenty of bands whose early buzz didn't come from conglomerates. You need someone to generate it, but it can be a venue, public radio, a music store… combinations of all of these things. We're not talking Radiohead, maybe, but some of the independent artists who have gotten at least some play, people who would never fit into the categories you're talking about.

    The excitement over this as "novel" may be misplaced, but it seems the enthusiasm is in the *hopes* that there are copycats. The only thing I don't see in this case is the donationware model is overkill for most things (just pick a price, make it affordable, make it easy), Radiohead's website pretty much sucks (it can, because we know who they are), and the implication is that you don't have to do anything to promote yourself.

    So, yeah, professional help, but it better be the right professional help / mentorship / whatever. A lot of fairly successful bands have been burned by the industry model, and we are seeing bands with business sense — or coupled with smaller entities with business sense — doing better going it on their own.

  • tim

    well i only payed 3 quid, mostly because i figured i'd only like 3 or 4 songs & I was right… seems a bit slack they didnt include artwork with the download version… has anyone checked to see if the MP3 has a watermark or ID?

  • Nicholas

    If you’re the next Radiohead, your chances of paying your bills in this fashion are next to 0.

    The world cares that Radiohead is doing this because A) they’re damn good and B) the big label machine has been hyping the crap out of them for like 10 years now.


    Exactly what i'm thinking; web only release published by the author can only obliterate one major step in us hearing good music; cognitive authority. Lets say you enjoy an artist, chances are you might put some credibility to the label that published them. Next time that label pushes another artist you might have a certain bias even before opening the cd, thinking it can't be that bad: emi published them, invested in them and promotes them.

    I put a 20 that this trend will not last very long. Its great for all the a-list artist involved but it goes nowhere in term of new people trying to make a living with cd sales. And i would even bet that a-list artist starting to sell their lemonade on the street corner might get a bit uncomfortable with the huge amount of money they'll make. Not because they don't deserve any of it, because they are profiting from a status built on a common effort with a label.

    How are we going to find the next Radiohead?

  • I included artwork with mine. And did the mp3s at 224. Just to be different. What do I win? 🙂

  • By the way, I don't think when rock stars like Prince and Radiohead do these weird album release stunts that it's necessarily meant to represent a sound business model (even though I am copying it, just because it's fun, and will hopefully get another five or six people to listen) — it represents shaking things up a bit, getting people talking, raising questions, etc. — what we're doing right here.

  • Jon Hicks asked his readers to submit some cover art. Some submissions are pretty decent.

  • I just listened to the whole release once and I have to admit, I totally like this one. Easy to get into it, which is new for Radiohead. Hoooray.

  • velocipede

    I paid 3 pounds total. This is more than I pay for most albums (via eMusic). It's certainly less than most people here seem to be paying, but I think it was more than fair, considering that no middle man is getting a cut (except the credit card companies who must love this business model), there is no physical media and the distribution costs are very low.

    Overall the album is quite nice. As aerotone wrote, it is easy to get into. It's only 10 tracks and about 40 minutes, like an LP. Short by recent standards, but maybe this is a more suitable length for most artists who seem to stretch to fill a CD.

    It interests me that Radiohead said "no" to iTunes reputedly because they did not want to allow single track downloads. Long live the download album format!

    As for the artwork, I just grabbed the background from the album web site and dropped it on the files in iTunes. Uh oh, did I steal something?

  • This album was mastered extremely loud. RMS=peak 🙁 Zero dynamics. Why? Liked the music though, but it's hard to listen to the bad sound.

  • Oetzi

    I ended up thinking long and hard about what to pay. I eventually payed £2 (2.45) as I am not really a Radiohead fan and decided I didn't owe them anything. But if this album gets me into them then I'll end up spending more than enough money on them to make up for it.

  • (first comment on – great site btw)

    I paid a £1 for mine cos I'm so skint at the moment – but I'm planning on buying the boxset edition when it's available.

    It's true there are sever places where it clips real badly – I don't think that's down to the actual mixing though. It's probably down the fact that they laid it on thick with majorly (radio friendly) aggressive compression!

    Found a dodgy lop on Reckoner though (Track 7) at around 1:10 – listen out for the drum loop!! I think they forgot to overlay a bit of tambourine to hide the cracks (like they do a 0:33) …..

    …or maybe it was all intentional?!!

  • *sever = several


  • Jemex

    Im A big radiohead fan. IN RAINBOWS, is OK, i would have liked it to be more Amnesiac/OK Computer sounding, but then again, people may find that sound less pleasing to the the ear. As a friend described it "I'll give an 'eh' for effort"

  • What the hell folks? Complaining about audio quality of an essentially free album leak? No where on the internet but here. hehehe. I mean it would be nice but i just can't complain. If the disc box still has the clipping and jitters in reckoning ill be upset tho. I'm used to much better from Nigel.

  • I paid $10 US. Listening to it now. I think I got my money's worth.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Yes, it's a 160kbps rip … but it's not that bad really. I ordered the discbox, so I'll soon be listening to this album on vinyl … excited!

    It's funny how people ALWAYS compare the newest Radiohead album to "OK Computer". Yes, it was a FUCKING AMAZING album that came out almost 10 years ago … and many of us know that … but you do realize that there were 3 full-length releases afterwards, and not counting the various EPs and Single releases. I was expecting someone to say, well it's a step up from "Hail To The Thief", or it's less electro than "Kid A", or something … but not comparing it to OK Computer. For shame Peter!!!!!!


    I'll come back and comment once I've had listened to the album a couple of times.

  • I paid 2 pounds. The standout tracks to me are: Reckoner, All I Need, Nude, and 15 Step.

  • dead red eyes, even you're now taking me way too seriously … irony, my friend. Radiohead have become like the new standards. (Witness the covers.) But yeah, that's why this is a big deal, because they have this cultural power behind them. I think the big thing is that the larger conglomerates — not the labels, even, the media companies — want everyone to believe they're on their side. Companies like Apple, bless them and their awesome OS, want to have everything buttoned up with those companies. This suggests there are major chinks in the armor.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Oh Peter, you should know I was just teasing you .. hence the :


    Haha. I wasn't taking you seriousl tho, but isn't it funny how the only fucking Radiohead songs that get played over the airwaves are mainly from OK Computer (except for the ocassional Bends track, and of course "Creep" from Pablo Honey).

    Yeah, the music industry is at an odd place right now really. The labels are only good for one thing if you ask me, and that's promotion. I've said it before that only bands of this stature (big bands) might be able to pull this whole thing off without the need of a label, granted you still have to figure out how you're going to get your stuff out there which generally means dealing with a distro company of some sorts. I think that Radiohead obviously has the finances and connections to make something like this work out.

  • ERS

    Don't forget there's also bands that have allowed aud taping/distribution of their concerts for…oh 40 years now…and some of them now offer soundboard recordings for every show in FLAC for about the same price as a physical CD.

    The bands make money because people actually want to, you know, come out and watch them play.

  • You guys remember Marillion´s initiative some years ago? They were even bolder than Radiohead, in the sense they financed a whole album production from pre-sales through their portal.

    The whole "architecture of participation" thing that defines Web 2.0 is, to my view, an excellent perception distribution method, so I think we're going to see more things like this emerging.

    At same time, we're going to see more and more RIAA copyright spasms, trying to hold onto a value chain that will no longer exist in a few years.



  • bliss

    Wow. A thread about people and by people who are actually paying for music downloaded on the Internet! I wonder what the RIAA cabal and piracy vigilante groups think of this.

    Rumor has it that Ani DiFranco started her own label with $50 bucks, and the label has been a financial success. Maybe Radiohead will start their own label? And, you know, release good music and make some money to pay for bills and other fun things. Anyone who has seen Radiohead live, and I have, know that they put on a phenomenal show. At least the most important part is sorted.

  • iain010100

    Just paid 5 pounds (~$10) for the downloads (even though I could have paid less – or more). I skimmed through it once, don't think I'll listen to it again, but I'm glad to support that effort.

    A vote "no" to high priced music. A vote "no" to DRM.

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