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Music at the Crossroads

Questions surround Radiohead release

By -- Sun Media

We still aren't over the Rainbows.

More than a month after Radiohead stunned the music world by releasing their latest CD In Rainbows via their website and allowing fans to name their own price, the industry and the Internet are still buzzing with questions such as:

  • How many people downloaded it? Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1.2 million in the first week, according to one estimate -- although another 500,000 copies were supposedly downloaded from illegal file-sharing sites, even though the album could be obtained legally for free.

  • How much money did they really make? An average of somewhere between 2c and a couple of bucks, depending on which rumour you believe (one study says only 38% of downloaders paid, and nearly half of them paid under $4.) Obviously, a couple of pennies is a lot less than they would have made from a traditional CD release. But that doesn't factor in the number of people who shelled out $80 for a box-set version of the release.

  • Will they eventually release the CD in stores on a traditional label? You bet. You'll be able to buy In Rainbows -- released by Dave Matthews ATO Records, an imprint of SonyBMG -- at your local CD store on New Year's Day. Humphrey Kadaner of HMV believes that shows Radiohead aren't quite giving up on the traditional music industry just yet. "The fact that Radiohead are now releasing the record in physical form ... suggests that they believe there is a role for HMV and physical retailers in this kind of world."

  • Who's going to be the next artist in line? Jamiroquai and Nine Inch Nails are said to be considering the idea; Ray Davies recently joined the free-music club by giving away his latest CD in a British newspaper. Even Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene -- who has a solo album due in April on the band's own label -- says he's thinking about following suit.

  • Is this the future of music? Not so fast there, pal.

    "A lot of people are seeing the Radiohead paradigm as the beginning of something new," says Alan Cross, program director at CFNY 102.1 FM in Toronto. "I'm wondering if it's just really the beginning of the end of the old."

    Like most industry figures, Cross believes there are only a select few superstar acts that could even hope to duplicate Radiohead's feat.

    "It only works with established artists, though you can bet that every other artist out there is looking to do an end-run around their label right now."

    And even if most of them don't follow through, the shockwaves it sent through the business make it all worthwhile to some.

    "I'm sure that everyone at the majors was crapping their pants," says a laughing Mark Milne, co-founder of Canadian indie record label and distributor Sonic Unyon. "I think it's amazing,"





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