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?