Thanks for nothing, Thom

Radiohead rant
By CARLY CARIOLI  |  October 3, 2007


Dear Dudes,

Thanks for deciding to fuck the music industry in all three holes by giving away your new album, In Rainbows, for free on the Internet. We appreciate your generosity in allowing us to pay however much we feel like when we download your DRM-free mp3s. This is a bold and brilliant idea, and we can’t think of a band we’d rather see come up with it.

Just one problem: it’s a fucking scam. You tossers.

Once we read the fine print, it became apparent that your “pay what you will” philosophy was just a smokescreen for a marketing plan that owes far more to conservative, old-world distribution plans than the blogosphere realizes.

What’s actually happening? As of October 10, In Rainbows will be released in two packages. The free-download version (or, we should say, the e-mail-us-a-few-bucks-if-you-want version) contains 10 songs, no extraneous packaging or information, all Spartan and Fugazi-like. The deluxxx model is an $80 box set that adds a double LP, the CD version of the album, a bonus disc of additional tunes, and an original, signed copy of the Magna Carta. At some point in the indeterminate future, InRainbows will be released in something approximating traditional CD form. By someone, somewhere. You might even be able to buy it in a store.

With one fell swoop, you’ve solved the blood-from-a-stone riddle that’s been plaguing the music industry since Napster: to wit, how do you get people to pay for free music? “Give it away” might seem a strange answer, unless you’ve been breathing for the past seven years. Everyone was going to download In Rainbows for free anyway, so you might as well do it yourself and pass the hat while you’re at it.

So, sure, “giving the album away for free” is genius PR — thinking waaaay outside the box. If someone’s keeping a doomsday clock for the CD as a viable medium, please reset it an hour closer to midnight.

The amazing part about your plan, Mssrs. Radiohead, is that if fans want the “object” — the physical manifestation of the music — you, Radiohead, are willing to gouge people for far more than the traditional record industry would ever dream of doing. I mean, I was pretty pissed when I had to pay $19 for a Madonna record. But I’ll blow David Geffen before I pay $80 for a Radiohead album. And before you Radiohead fans start typing, “Hey asshole, they’re giving the album away for free, remember?” well, last time I checked, “Down Is the New Up” is on only the fucking bonus disc. And I love “Down Is the New Up.”

Of course, Thom, you know as well as I do that I’m gonna illegally download that bitch from Oink, or from someone who got it from Oink who puts up a link, and I’m not gonna feel bad about it.

If In Rainbows is a model for how the music business is going to pan out, being a music fan is going to get really weird, innit? The album becomes an objet d’art destined for well-heeled connoisseurs. The digital download becomes a freebie that nobody pays for. And the CD-as-we-know-it goes straight to the cut-out bin several months after the fact, so your mom still has something to buy you for Christmas. Congratulations, Radiohead. You just ruined everything!

Except you didn’t. Go back and read that last paragraph again: what’s so genius about the marketing plan for In Rainbows isn’t that it’s some radically new vision of music-industry-future; it’s simply a realistic reflection of how the music industry actually works right now. It ain’t what we grew up with, but it is crushingly simple:

Down is the new up, motherfuckers.

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