Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows will be available October 10. In a not entirely surprising move, unconventional Radiohead decided to let fans decide what to pay for its new album. Partially in response to Radiohead’s announcement, Tech Crunch founder Michael Arrington blogged about the Inevitable March of Recorded Music Towards Free based on economic theory. I’m no Econ scholar (one per family is probably one too many) so I’ll leave that discussion there, but the argument is compelling.
A discussion I’ve had with friends that’s more interesting to me started with the question, how much would you pay for your favorite album? or if it’s a Radiohead album, your favourite album?
I was in college just as file-sharing utilities started to proliferate. Napster was probably the coolest thing I had ever seen. I downloaded and burned 200+ albums and thousands of singles. I no longer bought CDs, but I did attend many concerts and bought merchandise like t-shirts…how else would you know I went to the concert? When I got schtick for “stealing” I would say that I supported bands and music by paying to go to concerts and buying their merchandise, that money I would spend on a CD would go to the big, bad record company so it wasn’t a big deal. For reasons I am still unclear on, I completely changed my thinking shortly after graduating from college. I started feeling guilty for having so much free music so I threw away all my illegally burned CDs and I stopped supporting pirated music and software. Ironically some of the same people who called me a thief for having pirated music started jibing me for having a “holier than thou” attitude.
For me, it’s a personal choice. When I enjoy something as much as I enjoy music I don’t mind having to pay for that enjoyment. Now how much economic value do I get from a good album? How much should I pay for Radiohead’s new album? If it was on itunes for 9.99 USD or 12.99 USD I’d have pre-ordered it already. What about my favorite all-time favorite albums?
I have no idea. It’s hard to imagine life without those albums. Music is art informing life (informing art again, Glen Phillips might say). It’d be a shame for something so temporal as money to get in the way of art and life. Perhaps Radiohead got it right.