Radiohead still leading the way in independent music distribution

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Radiohead announced today that their latest album ’The King of Limbs’ is to be available for download this Saturday - 19th February across 5 territories - UK / Ireland, Europe, The Americas, S.E.Asia, and Rest of the World.


There are in fact 4 versions of the album available as you can see from the above screen-capture:

  • MP3 Download - £6 / $9
  • WAV Download - £9 / $14
  • Newspaper Artwork Physical Album + MP3 Download - £30 / $48
  • Newspaper Artwork Physical Album + WAV Download - £33 / $53

The full physical release does not take place until 9th May, but fans can of course get hold of the downloads a lot sooner.


Radiohead of course pioneered online independent distribution with their ’In Rainbows’ album - for which fans could choose how much the album was worth to them. On this occasion they have fixed the parameters, and they are totally in control of the sale of the album themselves.


At Comrz we’ve long been saying that ongoingly artists will become increasingly more in control of their output and assets, and more and more will follow Radiohead in owning and controlling their retail environments. I believe these are reasonable price-points for this kind of ’product’. I have long held the belief that download music albums should not cost much more than £5 and singles no more than £0.59 (in line with the iPhone App Store; not iTunes obviously) - I firmly hold to the belief that this will become the case eventually.


The nature of the traditional music industry involves lots of intermediaries and go-betweens, in fact a fairly sizeable distribution network intricately linked to radio, media and chart organisations. By going the Radiohead route, you totally cut out the traditional channels, and forego radio and retail support and the pubclity and advertising that goes with that; being outside traditional retail channels means also that you also forego a chart position. The online music industry has seen a lot of recent evolution with entities like Spotify and SoundCloud. It will be very interesting to see what evolves out of all of this.


For established bands like Radiohead - who already have a sizeable following - going down the proprietary retail route is a no-brainer. For new and up-and-coming artists though the promotional clout of the traditional music industry is often required to get an artist to critical mass - or at least mass consumer attention.


The music industry has always been a huge risk business with the successful few paying for the promotion of the multitude of potential successes - the majority don’t make it as such. As has been shown with the failings at EMI and HMV, the traditional model is fast slipping away. There are also questions about what is to become of MySpace, which has been an online springboard for many of the recent young up-and-comers - Lilly Allen famously came up through MySpace.


As the old organisations crumble, new platforms must evolve - which give everyone a fair shot at success. iTunes is certainly not the answer - it is far too limiting a platform in its reach and utility, as is Spotify. MySpace and are good reference resources, but offer few retail opportunities, and don’t give artists sufficient control over their presentation or environment. I really see that the only way to go that will give both the asrits and the fans what they want / need is for more and more artists to have a fully-fledged all-encompassing social marketplace that serves their fans’ every need. They will still need feeder sites, promotional outlets and other touch-points - but the more they bring in-house, the more value the artist/s can retain, and the more value they can deliver to their fans.

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