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Searching for lessons from Radiohead’s album release

By Jake Coyle
AP Entertainment Writer

Several weeks after Radiohead’s digital release of its seventh studio album, “In Rainbows,” aftershocks are still reverberating though the music industry.

While some perspective on the success of the experiment is possible, a full sense remains elusive since the band has been mum on how many copies of its album, and for what average price, were purchased from www.inrainbows.com. A spokesman for the British group decline to comment Wednesday.

Nevertheless, British Web site www.Gigwise.com has reported that Radiohead sold 1.2 million copies, a figure thought to be largely based on the pre-orders of the album placed in the 10 days between Radiohead announced the release, and the day it went on sale: Oct. 10.

That figure easily trumps the number of discs Radiohead’s last album sold in a similar time frame. 2003’s “Hail to the Thief” moved 300,000 copies in its first week, eventually selling about one million copies in the United States.

Unlike their previous records, all the revenues this time go to the band. Radiohead’s long-term deal with music giant EMI Group has expired, allowing them to release “In Rainbows” themselves.

Forbes.com has reported that though the album could be legitimately purchased for free, it was still downloaded over 240,000 times from peer-to-peer BitTorrent networks on the first day of release. Such downloads have totaled more than 500,000.

Those are startling numbers that suggest regardless of what bands or record labels do, great numbers of people are still going to pirate music. It’s part of the culture now — even Radiohead’s radical experiment didn’t change that.

Radiohead still intends a traditional, physical release of “In Rainbows.” They’ve been recently reported to be nearing distribution deals with independent labels.

The majors have been increasingly left out, watching several big names find new ways of selling their music. Nine Inch Nails now plans to operate independently of a major label. Madonna signed a recording and touring deal believed to be worth up to $120 million with concert promoter Live Nation Inc.

A leaked internal e-mail from EMI chairman Guy Hands called Radiohead’s release “a wake-up call which we should all welcome and respond to with creativity and energy.”

In a message on the band’s Web site, www.radiohead.com
/deadairspace, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke wrote: “It’s a relief to us that finally it’s out there. It’s been a mad couple of weeks ... as I’m sure you can imagine.”

But it’s actually quite hard to imagine what it’s been like for Radiohead recently. With their label-less freedom, they’ve largely shunned press interviews.

Guitarist and instrumental wizard Jonny Greenwood explained to Rolling Stone that the band opted for the unusual release “partly to get it out quickly, so everyone would hear it at the same time, and partly because it was an experiment that felt worth trying.”

The lessons of that experiment would be even more valuable if Radiohead announced the results.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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