I have argued in the past that current models used in the the publishing and music industry are out of date. Laws, contracts and the 'way things work' favor publishers and recording industries at the expense of artists and authors--to an incredible degree.
So I watched with interest when Radiohead announced that they would release their latest album without a label. They gave it away on the internet, and asked fans to 'pay what you want'. The results?
The bad news is that 60 percent of those who downloaded the music paid nothing. The forty that did pay averaged about $6, less than what they would pay for a CD in a store, or on iTunes.
The good news? The band got to keep all of that money. It's estimated they made between 6-10 million dollars on that one album.
However, before we all rush out and put our next book or album on the internet, we have to remember another side of the model that this event does not take into affect. From comscore:
""While the band, its fans and artists alike are celebrating what looks like a success for Radiohead's bold move in releasing their new album using the ‘pay what you'd like’ model, I think everybody has overlooked one very important aspect of this, and it doesn't bode well for the future of the music industry,” says Michael Laskow, CEO of TAXI, the world's leading independent A&R (Artist and Repertoire) company. “Radiohead has been bankrolled by their former label for the last 15 years. They've built a fan base in the millions with their label, and now they're able to cash in on that fan base with none of the income or profit going to the label this time around. That's great for the band and for fans who paid less than they would under the old school model. But at some point in the not too distant future, the music industry will run out of artists who have had major label support in helping them build a huge fan base. The question is: how will new artists be able to use this model in the future if they haven't built a fan base in the millions in the years leading up to the release of their album under the pay what you'd like model?"
The flip side of that, of course, is bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Ok Go!, bands that found popularity first on the internet, and then through traditional means.
It would be naive to think that since it worked for Radiohead, it will work for everybody else. But I do hope that this will be a wakeup call to other bands, artists, and authors. We don't need the labels and publishers. There are other methods with new technology. Certainly, there are hurdles and problems to be worked out, but let's explore alternative models, and see what we can find.