Radiohead – Guerrilla Marketers, Bringers of Rainbows

From fog to full on rainbows, Radiohead took the unconventional and less-traveled road selling their new album this past October in a left of center fashion. Rather than distribute directly and solely to retail and web-based music merchants, the UK based quartet weaved their own web and sold on the Internet giving universal accessibility through their website via download with a nonchalant ‘pay what you feel’ policy.

This bold and innovative move went right under music industry noses and caused many a feather-ruffling. Through the means in which In Rainbows was released, it has challenged the music industry’s established model of distribution and sales by directly allowing the consumer pricing power.

This downloadable, non-commercial tactic was deliberate in the releasing In Rainbows, but don’t perceive it as ill-intentioned. Through this deliberateness, Radiohead opted to confront and finally snuff out an all too familiar flame that has been limelighting them toward iTunes distribution and DRM (Digital Rights Management) copyrighting.

DRM technology, as of late, has been a particularly sticky issue in the music industry, especially since the evolution from tangible music to digitalized music. Specifically, DRM involves access control technologies utilized by copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices; in this case, the digital media are solely Radiohead’s mp3s. And for consumers, if the music purchased is DRM coded, sharing is halted.

Making no stops themselves, Radiohead squashed the idea of DRM and sneered at the iTunes option, mostly due to Apple’s methodology of selling artists’ music, both individually – by song – and in full album form. Turned off by how their songs could be downloaded individually – which discounts the sanctity of full album composition and flow, for any artist – Radiohead went non-retail and non-iTunes with their mp3’s. Actually, as it stands currently, not once has any Radiohead album been available through iTunes, period, and as band mates they’re adamant to keep it that way. But, they’re not opposed to the idea of downloading music.

An exclusive download was available on October 10, 2007 for In Rainbows. Devotees had the excellent option to select how much they wanted to pay for the new album. Thing was, consumers were not aware they were partaking in a bit of unofficial research; Radiohead initiated this album’s release because they were curious. Conducting tests like mad scientists, Radiohead was curious how their fans and worldly listeners would take the offbeat marketing approach of In Rainbows.

In an October interview Jonny Greenwood – Radiohead lead-guitarist and multi-instrumentalist – shared his thoughts when asked about the new album’s introduction through the Web with the ‘pay what you feel’ policy:

“…It was kind of an experiment as well; we were just doing it for ourselves and that was all. People are making a big thing about it being against the industry or trying to change things for people but it’s really not what motivated us to do it…it’s just interesting to make people pause for even a few seconds and think about what music is worth now.”

Massive amounts of people – a reported 1.2 million – had the choice to ponder and select their own price for the new album. Paid damages ranged from 0 to 1,000 dollars per purchase with an estimated total of some ridiculously blown up figure, roughly 2 million dollars. And with no label in the mix, the downloaded album turned over as pure profit for the band mates, which is a nice bonus.

Perks a side, Radiohead has proven to be quite the collective of inquisitors and warrior-like marketers in their ushering of In Rainbows. Through unshackled steps forward, they got exactly what they desired, their way. Lacking DRM, label money messes and overall restriction, Radiohead has placed themselves on an ideal cloud, a lowly and quite humble one at that. And through all this, Radiohead gained massive amounts of media buzz, which inadvertently could, and most likely already did, attribute to increased sales. Hats off to these Mad Hatters!


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