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Radiohead and the future of the music industry

a couple references:

We’re entering a new phase of the industry and it seems like things are starting to take shape where things were very unclear before. The writing has been on the wall for a long time for the CD. Download is just easier. The CD itself spelled its own doom by downplaying the fetishism of the original vinyl albums: people used to stare at 12″ album covers, if people look at CD booklets once, they almost never look at them twice.

The question has been more about DRM and pricing since iTunes, and it still is, but the future is written on the wall. The bigger question is about the eventual structure of the music business.

Are record companies still relevant? Sure, as promotions vehicles. As talent identification agencies, not so much anymore. That is something they brought onto themselves, though. The way forward for the record labels could have been as the talent scouts. They could have taken advantage of the lowered barriers to entry and lower costs and let a lot of artists bloom. Some of these artists would become mega-stars, some would be marginally profitable and some would lose money (but less money that they would in the old days). Overall, the labels would have probably ended up more profitable and more relevant. Instead, they went the other way. They circled wagons around their big money makers and only signed artists that sounded exactly like their big money makers. Now their money makers are wondering why they have these leeches attached to their earnings when they can do it themselves and the labels are in a true pickle.

The piece of information I’m desperate for as various artists do these experiments around digital pricing is the question that isn’t asked. “Why did you chose to pay what you did?” We can all speculate, but getting the average amount someone willingly paid for a download is one thing, but knowing why they paid that is just (if not more) interesting.  Some more data points not collected: did people download the InRainbows record off bittorrent because they didn’t like giving personal information to the Radiohead store, or did the store not work for them, or was it too slow, or was it just easier since they already used bittorrent all the time anyway?

I hope that future experiments along these lines will ask some questions and tell all of us the answers.

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