Web Strategy Goes Rock ‘n Roll

This isn’t a new story – in fact, you may have heard it before. But, have you considered it from the perspective of a web strategist? Radiohead are widely regarded as one of the most successful rock bands in the world both critically and in terms of popularity.

Coming into their most recent album In Rainbows, they had completed their contract with the record company. Their contract had pre-dated iTunes so the band had received no royalties from iTunes downloads for their previous albums at all… It was time to do something different.

Rather than going down the old path of printing CDs and distributing them, they opted to release the album on their website. This isn’t entirely unusual. What was truly different was that they let their users pay what they thought the album was worth. No limits – you could pay nothing if you wanted.


While the exact figures aren’t available, some websites have estimated over a million albums were downloaded and that the band made millions with this strategy. Thom Yorke, the lead singer, in an interview with Wired magazine said: “In terms of digital income, we’ve made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together…”

Why did this work so well for Radiohead?

In my mind, the lesson here is the importance of mutual trust online. Radiohead had an extraordinary track record for delivering outstanding albums, so the fans were prepared to take a punt – without listening to the music – to pay for it. Equally, Radiohead trusted the fans to respect their music and so handed over the control for payment to the user.

One of the goals of good web strategy is to build that long term trust that was so important to Radiohead’s success. What’s more, the creativity of their approach received a slew of press, further perpetuating the success of their decision.

So ask yourself:

How are you building trust with your fan base and the online community?
Are you thinking about what your customer would like?
Are you prepared to hand over control to your user and empower them to make choices?

Regardless of what you think of the band, the web strategy worked for them because it:

Was interesting (no one had done the “pay what you think it’s worth” approach before in music and hence generated a huge amount of publicity)
Was relevant (it was the first album they’d released in 4 years)
Made it very easy for the customers to go and buy (allowing them to control the price)
If you manage your web strategy with these principles in mind, then you’ll be on the right track.


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