Radiohead Surrenders Control and Makes a Bold Move

The big news on the music marketing front this week has to be the upcoming release of Radiohead’s 7th album “In Rainbows.” The reason is simple… the extremely popular band is no longer affiliated with a major label and releasing the music direct to the public themselves… no label, no itunes. This alone is fairly radical. Some great artists have been unaffiliated with a label and releasing product for years quite successfully.

 

One example that comes to mind is one of the most successful jazz artists today, composer Maria Schneider and her constantly touring “big band”. She is a part of a cooperative record label called Artists Share and is able to offer her fans a variety of levels of participation with her recording projects… from simple album purchase to tiered access to the project’s creative process all the way to Executive Producer level for higher financial contributions… audience choice. She has been so successful with this that not only has she been able to take on and fund ever more ambitious projects, she even received the first ever Grammy for a pure digital album.

 

And others such as Prince who take the long view of their business have distributed their latest recordings for free, in his case as in insert in a newspaper or at concert events.

 

Radiohead is taking this thing to new level because customers are invited to pay what they wish for a download version of upcoming album…directly from them!

 

If you follow Marketing 2.0 Win you know that one of our 5 laws of marketing for the 21st century is “Surrender = Victory.” In essence what this law indicates is that in our topsy turvey world, like it or not customers have control and the more we as marketers are willing to surrender control to them, the more successful we will be.

 

Radiohead is doing just this…surrendering maximum control. We can argue that they can afford to, especially when you consider that they are one of the world’s most popular bands with a huge fan base and they have in effect disintermediated most of the middle men in the process. But the inverse is also true, one could also argue they have the most to lose.

 

One outstanding question what will fans do?

  • My sense is that some will choose to pay nothing… which is totally acceptable.
  • Many will base their choice based on the digital retail price which, depending on how you look at it is 9.99 on iTunes and 8.99 on the new Amazon MP3 service.
  • And assuming people like the new album, many will probably pay more based on its emotional value.

This “feeling” will also be driven by the fact that fans will be dealing with the band directly and my guess is this will be perceived as a righteous act, worthy of support.

 

This is all good, but there is one more factor in the mix of this bold act that excites me the most. We know that iTunes has been the most successful legal distribution channel with 3+ billion tunes downloaded. This represents a tiny fraction of music that is downloaded… for free every day however.

 

This what some would call “underground audience” is in the hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide. They have contempt for licensed content and labels and believe it is their right to get the music they want for free. Like it or not, they feel entitled to it.

 

By surrendering control, I figure Radiohead is making the first real and legitimate move to capture some of this audience. If they can pay whatever price they wish, I will guess many will. The only question then is how much? No matter what, Radiohead wins… consumers win… and a whole new way to engage the largest possible audience may emerge… an audience that is empowered to dictate their own terms in the transaction. Welcome 2.0 a new day!

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One Response to “Radiohead Surrenders Control and Makes a Bold Move”

  1. music Says:

    very interesting.
    i’m adding in RSS Reader

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