Eliminating the Middlebronfman: Radiohead releases new album online sans music label, pay whatever

Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows, will bow Oct. 10 as an independent release – no music cartel involved – and customers get to choose their own price!

“Radiohead is on a sustained run as the most interesting and innovative band in rock, but what makes In Rainbows important — easily the most important release in the recent history of the music business — are its record label and its retail price: there is none, and there is none,” Josh Tyrangiel reports for TIME Magazine.

MacDailyNews Note: You can pay as little £.01 (US$.02) plus £0.45 to cover the credit card handling fee. The album is also available separately as part of a £40 box-set which includes the album on two vinyl records, on CD, another CD with additional songs, lyrics, photos, and artwork.

In Rainbows will be released as a digital download available only via the band’s web site, Radiohead.com. There’s no label or distribution partner to cut into the band’s profits — but then there may not be any profits. Drop In Rainbows‘ 15 songs into the on-line checkout basket and a question mark pops up where the price would normally be. Click it, and the prompt “It’s Up To You” appears. Click again and it refreshes with the words “It’s Really Up To You” — and really, it is. It’s the first major album whose price is determined by what individual consumers want to pay for it. And it’s perfectly acceptable to pay nothing at all,” Tyrangiel reports.

“Radiohead’s contract with EMI/Capitol expired after its last record, Hail to the Thief, was released in 2003; shortly before the band started writing new songs, singer Thom Yorke told TIME, ‘I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘F___ you’ to this decaying business model,'” Tyrangiel reports.

“While many industry observers speculated that Radiohead might go off-label for its seventh album, it was presumed the band would at least rely on Apple’s iTunes or United Kingdom-based online music store 7digital for distribution. Few suspected the band members had the ambition (or the server capacity) to put an album out on their own. The final decision was apparently made just a few weeks ago, and, when informed of the news on Sunday, several record executives admitted that, despite the rumors, they were stunned. ‘This feels like yet another death knell,’ emailed an A&R executive at a major European label. ‘If the best band in the world doesn’t want a part of us, I’m not sure what’s left for this business,'” Tyrangiel reports.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: They may not have the server capacity, as the site is extremely slow and/or downright unresponsive. We’ll add news of the format(s) offered and whether DRM is involved when we can get through to find out.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows Website is here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Wealthy Industrialite” for the heads up.]

[Note: MacDailyNews coined the term “Middlebronfman,” a combination of “middleman” and “Bronfman” [Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr.], in an article on Monday, October 03, 2005 with the sentence, “Eliminate the middlebronfman.”]


  1. This smells like a publicity stunt, honestly.

    First, there are a number of bands out there that own their own record labels, or share a record label with a cooperative of bands. Having a record label is how you get into bricks-and-mortar stores; if you own your own label, you get a much larger cut of those sales. Since they’re producing and engineering the music anyway, to provide digital downloads, all they would need is some money to throw at a lawyer (to create Radiohead Records Inc.) and at a CD duplication service (to produce the CDs). Having a label also makes it a lot easier to get into the #3 music store on the planet.

    Second, this approach to selling music — allow for downloads, and charge what the buyer wants to pay — is the business model of Magnatune. The artist gets a flat 50% of the sales price; Magnatune pays for bandwidth, hosting, promotion, and order fulfillment if the customer wants a physical CD. So it’s not news.

    It’s probably getting Radiohead a lot of free publicity, though.

  2. It is not that an artist no longer needs a record label, but that it does not need the current record label ways of promoting music, through payola and a selection of the worthless crap one has ever heard.
    There is no risk-taking at all. That killed the record industry. Their lack of understanding of the digital world was just the nail in the coffin.
    Let’s also not forget one thing called division of labour. Don’t get fooled if you think an artist wants to be the manager, the distributor, the publisher, etc.

  3. Spark is right.

    Also, I hope folks realize that they’re not selling their music for free. They’re asking people to pay what it’s worth to them. It makes smalltime business moral.

    Honestly there are artists out there that have mattered so much to me that I’ve felt I’ve ripped them off by paying only 13.99 or whatever per album.

    The only problem I see is that you don’t know how much an album will be worth to you until after you’ve lived with it for a while. Maybe you should buy the album and then pay 2 weeks or 2 months later.

  4. Good for them. I bet they’ll make a ton of money on it. I’ve never been a big fan of their music but I’ve always had the utmost respect for them. Even more so after today.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Prince sold several of his most recent albums without record companies? I think he let them distribute “Musicology” but the few before that, if I remember correctly, were sold only via his website, and they didn’t get their usual take. The price was not negotiable, though.

  5. I think all Radiohead fans should go and pay $10 for the album and show the rest of the industry they don’t need the record labels to dictate the way they do business. Go Radiohead. You have my vote, I’ll pay $10


    Not one, or two… SEVEN! With the free release of their final album before reuniting for Zeitgiets; Machina II.

    They are the most innovative band in modern rock.


  7. I disagree wtih Spark. The internet is a different beast than brick and mortar stores. Is it really so hard to type in a URL and go to another site? It’s dead simple and fast.

    With brick and mortar shops you had to physically travel from one place to the next but a click will take you to your next destination.

    If you like a certain band chances are you’re checking out their website anyway. While you’re there you can also purchase their albums. You don’t need a distribution deal on the web. What are you distributing? Ones and zeroes?

    Bands will still need to promote theirnew releases but I don’t see any need for a distribution deal.

    I do like Shogun’s idea of paying after you’ve had a chance to live with the tunes for awhile to determine the worth. That would be neat

  8. They are idiots, If I am looking for new bands/music I start clicking around in iTunes and listen to the previews and decide if I like a band or not. I guess i would never find Radiohead that way so I will never learn about them and I am sure that this is the same with other people as well. Oh well their loss. Any band that isn’t on iTunes are idiots – I have found more music on iTunes then I ever found in any record store.

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