Radiohead are billing their new release as “the world’s first* (*perhaps) Newspaper Album,” except that no one really seems to know yet what that means. (A Style section? Funnies page? Wrapped in newsprint? Apparently, none of these. Chatter online seems to suggest they’re printing the artwork newspaper-style, which could be potentially cool. Update – readers agree the “first” honor belongs to Jethro Tull, at the very least.) They’re definitely pursuing the “kitchen sink” approach some beloved megastars of music embrace these days, with a CD and two vinyl records and downloads and artwork. There’s ecological packaging, too; someday, the music world will make up for all those awful plastic jewel cases we put in landfills.

I could tell you how much this costs, but that would depend on some complex mathematical calculus based on where you live and whether you opt for MP3 or WAV and the chance of whether there’s a Golden Ticket in the package and if your nation’s government has a Thom Yorke tariff. (The US Trade Representative is working on that.)

But in the US and Europe, at least, it appears to be a lot of stuff for a pretty accessible price – around US$50 / EUR 40 with all the artwork and vinyl and CD and downloads.

Anyway, it’s quite simple: click your country, opt for a WAV download, and Saturday, you’ll be listening to the new album, uncompressed. There – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

And it’s new Radiohead. Girls may not scream incessantly, they may never have played Ed Sullivan or gotten their own Rock Band/Guitar Hero game, and they’re just a band. But the reason this will spread across every music blog and Facebook page and Twitter post and Smorgasioo social network “bjork” and music fan mash-up today is because, hey, a whole lot of people are going to be really happy and listening to music Saturday. That sounds like a good thing to me.

Just remember – $14. Wav. You can pay with PayPal. That’s the easy way to go. It’s what I did. I’ll never understand why so many bands are compared to Radiohead when the comparison almost never holds. But we’re lucky to still have the original putting out music. Happy Valentine’s Day.

So, in the ephemeral digital age, how do you market and merchandise music? (There’s way more discussion on the Interwebs about the fact that “In Rainbows” was free.)

Interestingly, Radiohead – and loads of other top UK artists – are working with some folks called Sandbag:

They’re rather an interesting outfit: they do the e-commerce thing, like everyone else, with a pretty simple, no-brainer, international store for downloads. (Just went through the purchase process myself; we’ll see how downloads go Saturday.) That puts them in a league with countless others. But their twist is that they also do global physical fulfillment, and “ethical” physical goods and manufacturing. That puts them in a league with – well, a league of their own. It earned the UK-based firm a Grammy.

They also do webcasting and ticketing, though the latter is so dominated by the Ticketmaster empire, that sounds more like an uphill battle.

But if you’re looking just at the free “In Rainbows” and the paid “King of Limbs,” you’re missing a lot of what’s happened in the intervening time. Artists and the vendors who work with them have begun working on new ideas for how to sell music and merch. And some of that innovation, by necessity, can’t just be ephemeral – it means working out how to make physical goods and ticketing and events work, too, and not just in one country but worldwide.

From the ashes of the old music business, in other words, expect a lot of new music businesses, plural, to arise.

  • Tony

    I really really just dont like Radiohead.  Really.  

  • Peter Kirn

    @Tony: That's cool. See above: just a band.

  • Flick

    What a wonderful way to start a Monday. Thanks Peter!

  • Billy K

    I read a really cool article (Music Theory Spectrum 31) that explained how radiohead used different tonal centers in correlation with different lyrical voices on the Karma Police track….    

    they go way beyond making music that sounds cool.

  • strata189

    They make truly interesting music, IMHO

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  • Like their music or not, RH and NIN are showing us all the way for success without needing a label.

  • Peter Kirn

    Yeah, absolutely – that of course gets us back into the whole "but you're not as popular as Radiohead / Nine Inch Nails" discussion. But it's clear that the basic transaction here doesn't require the label. It *does* require a partner to do the other stuff, which is why I bring up Sandbag. Radiohead could've tried to bring in people to do that in-house, because they are that big. The fact that they instead partner with someone else is telling. And even though Sandbag is a little independent shop, look at the breadth of stuff they're doing – everything from e-commerce in lots of different countries and every continent to working out manufacturing deals for the merch and webcasting events and… the list goes on. That's a lot more than labels did/do, which means labels may have to get into those sorts of areas if they want to have any carrot for artists.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    Did someone say newspaper album?

    Jethro Tull already did that:

    Pretty damn stoked for this though. Radiohead is my favorite band pretty much.

  • I really look forward to the 19th. Now Radiohead are to me what Pink Floyd were during my childhood: they make me dream, they make me want to listen to their albums 8 times in a row.
    However, I opted for mp3, as I'm going to buy the physical thing when it comes out in May.

  • palimdrones

    "Radiohead are billing their new release as “the world’s first* (*perhaps) Newspaper Album,”"

    Actually this will be the world's second newspaper album:

  • tokyojoe

    @Peter Kirn but surely this business model requires that you were once signed to a record company and had huge success? Is there a band selling the same kind of numbers as NIN and RH that have never been signed?

  • davincicode

    Had problems with Sandbag on the website in re: Radiohead

  • Peter Kirn

    @davincicode: Let us know what went wrong. I suspect a lot of people are curious how well that solution works… especially when overloaded with Radiohead fans. 😉

  • Peter Kirn

    @tokyojoe: That to me isn't the point. You need to be pulling Radiohead-style numbers to really profit from major labels – and even for them, it apparently doesn't make sense.

    Whatever the scale of your fanbase, the essential ingredients here – on-demand digital, direct availability to your fans, payment from anywhere in the world, simultaneous release dates, some physical option if you want to charge any more – these are all things I'd say are a baseline for any band. 

    These are all prerequisites before there even is a business model. And they hold more promise, at least, than the major label business model, which has required exclusivity, lots of label control, confused licensing schemes especially across countries, etc. 

    And I think the question is, aside from the majors' traditionally house-always-wins economic structures, if this is what people expect from distribution, are the majors advantageous? Have they even caught up?

    But that's a lot of questions; I don't mean to be flippant. I just mean to observe, a lot of what Radiohead needs is pretty close to what a radically smaller indie artist needs, too. That's kind of amazing in itself.

  • shim

    in my view, the whole RH/NIN new business model discussion is over, it's here and being utilized by anyone that can create something of value and then monetize the sh*t out of.

    all i really see here is a dialog about outsourcing to friends, who can be trusted in this biz(nothing new) and mostly a question of scale. word of mouth hype is still king. i'll just be buying the WAV, even is 14 bubbles is a bit steep.
    and IMHO: best album art i've seen in awhile.

  • anechoic

    being a big fan of rh I bought the mp3 version and had no problem purchasing through sandbag – firefox on linux and paypal all worked flawlessly and the UI was hella-simple…can't wait for new rh music 🙂

  • asdf

    I think third actually. didn't prince do one a couple years ago?

  • I liked radiohead a lot better the first time, when they made interesting music. Then they stopped calling themselves Joy Division . . .

  • zorro

    by the way , i see that there is no "free" or "give what you want" option this time… Now we know how ahem.. "successful" was their previous experiment.

  • Peter Kirn

    @zorro: I wouldn't read too much into that. For one thing, we haven't heard the music, so we can't compare there. And the "experiment" isn't necessarily a failure just because it isn't repeated. In fact, did the widespread use of "In Rainbows" or funky music videos have an impact on the continued buzz factor of Radiohead? Yes, I imagine it did. (No matter how big you are, how respected you are, staying in the public's good graces for a period of years like this is neither a small nor a one-dimensional challenge.)

  • Chad

    Greg, that is not an astute comment.  Just so we're clear.

  • Ranch

    tried to get into radiohead cant get past the super whiny vocals. i think billy corgan should make a cd with the singer from radiohead and call it the best of the whiny singers. man i just do not get it.
    its like fingernails on a chalkboard.

  • Peter Kirn

    If Thom Yorke is whiny, I wish my voice were whiny.

  • I bet I can get those .wav files at the same quality, and a lot cheaper.
    I can also think of a lot of better things to do with that 14 bucks than have it go up Johnny Greenwood's nose with 20 other peoples' 14 bucks.

  • What Sandbag offers that Topspin don't?
    I see that in the Sandbag store list there is lot of Topspin bands. Like Arcade Fire that uses Topsin on the store on their site:

    I love how Trent uses topspin on he's new project:

    Direct-to-fan is the model of this decade.

  • miaouxmiaoux

    not long ago a track of mine came out on a split 12" with the artwork printed on newspaper – i guess that's what they mean by 'newspaper album'. check it out:

  • ab

    I see this type of merchandising working for first world countries, here in mexico anytime you mention paypal to people, they go like: what?! what is that?! isnt paying for stuff on the  internet really dangerous?! Just a few people here, use this kind of service, people usually just download ilegal copies of the albums. I see this new type of merchandising as a great opportunity for musicians like many of us, the problem for me is the country where i live, even if i did sell my stuff through the web, people usually dont bother to go trough the "tremendously difficult"(sarcasm) process that is buying something from the internet.

  • Z

    @Greg, i have seen you drop a few morsels of awesomely deconstructive sarcasm on cdm, just so you know, your so fucking cool, do you know that? SOO cool. Way too cool for the Create digital network, you should look for somthing better where they can fully appreciate your dark,brooding, brilliantly sarcastic remarks.

  • genjutsushi

    Record labels are increasingly being demystefied as financing companies with big in house marketing departments. Why bother? If youre in a moderately successful band, then Get a business case together based on the expected (real world) return on investment, take it to the bank for a loan, employ a marketing company and run the whole shooting match yourself!

  • oh, music

    @ Greg – seriously, you need to go drop your 'hilarious' comments on Brooklyn Vegan or the Vice Blog or something. CDM isn't really the place for you. BTW – Jonny Greenwood doesn't do coke. Just take my word for it.