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New Radiohead CD to Debut Online


The rock band Radiohead announced today that it will release a new album next week, but not exactly the conventional way. Radiohead will release the album as a download via its Web site without a label. And fans can pay whatever they want, even nothing.

NPR's Jacob Ganz reports.

JACOB GANZ: As soon as Radiohead made its announcement, fans who went to the band's Web site found a message. Over a blurry multi-colored background, the text reads: Radiohead have made a record. So far, it is only available from this Web site. To pre-order the record, titled "In Rainbows," fans can click a link and this is what they get: A black space where the price should be. Next to it, a question mark. Click on that and you get a page that reads: It's up to you.

Mr. JOSH TYRANGIEL (Assistant Managing Editor/Music Critic, Time Magazine): Not only have they sort of in one fell swoop gotten past the age-old distribution model, the record business, they've also completely overturned the pricing model on the record business.

GANZ: Josh Tyrangiel is assistant managing editor of Time Magazine as well as its music critic. And yes, you can get the new Radiohead record for free if you want. A physical copy of the record on vinyl compact disk and digital download can be pre-ordered for delivery in December at a cost of 40 British Pounds. But a digital-only version of the record, available on October 10th, can be purchased for whatever price the buyer deem fit, which has just about everyone in the music industry a buzz.

(Soundbite of song "2+2=5")

Mr. THORN YORKE (Vocalist, Radiohead): (Singing) Are you such a dreamer? To put the world to rights?

GANZ: Each of Radiohead had last three albums debut in Billboard's top three. Its last record, 2003's "Hail to the Thief," sold over 300,000 copies in its first week. But after Radiohead's contract with EMI Capitol expired, rumors abounded that the band would go it alone.

For the most part, musicians themselves have never made much money on record sales. Most of it goes to the labels. So, says Josh Tyrangiel, artists like Radiohead and Prince, who gave his newest record away for free inside a British newspaper, are at the front of a new wave.

Mr. TYRANGIEL: More and more bands are going to do this because they'll be able to, because it's easy. Because you do keep more of your profits if you actually charge for the music, and you do generate more goodwill if you don't. So for the bands themselves, there's really no loss to be had here.

GANZ: No lost for Radiohead, a much beloved band with many fans who will probably pay for "In Rainbows" next week. That's not the case for the industry as a whole where labels depend on their high selling artists. Which means a few music executives must have woken up this morning feeling a little nervous.

Mr. TYRANGIEL: The best band in the world is saying, you know, we don't really need you. And we don't really want anything to do with you. It's easier for us to just go out on our own.

GANZ: The members of Radiohead are downplaying the significance of this move. A representative for the band said they'd finished the album and just wanted to get the music fans as quickly as possible. But in an industry that has seen sales decline sharply over the last year, the members of Radiohead might be the only ones taking this lightly.

Jacob Ganz, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.