On Monday 7digital debuted Radiohead's "King of Limbs" in high definition 24-bit FLAC format, the first for a major artist in this premium format. It is priced at £8.99 in the UK and $11.99 in the US, and is available in 30 other territories including Canada, Germany, Spain and France.
Buyers will get a download bundles that actually includes three versions: 24-bit FLAC, 16-bit FLAC (CD quality for CD burning) and 320kbps AAC (for iTunes compatibility). It's the first time 7digital has offered a 24-bit FLAC download.
This is the second time 7digital has sold a self-released Radiohead album. The retailer sold the band's previous album, "In Rainbows," in the FLAC format and saw a "high percentage" of people opting for the higher quality version (16-bit FLAC), says Drury. So when 7digital approached Radiohead about the release of "The King of Limbs," Drury says they upped the ante "We thought, 'Radiohead has got a great history of innovation. Let's see if they're interested in doing this in 24-bit.'"
The overall market for 24-bit FLAC may be small, but Drury says this is the right release for this band. "I think people who are into Radiohead are maybe more discerning on audio quality that more mainstream pop fans." Since the album was created by producer Nigel Godrich in 24-bit digital audio, fans can better appreciate the album as Godrich meant it to be heard.
"This is not just a one-off," Drury adds. "We will be releasing more and more FLACs, whether that's 16-bit or 24-bit. We really believe in pushing the quality envelope. But at the same time we're giving people the choice, so if you buy FLAC you also get the AAC."
FLAC, which stands for free lossless audio codec http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Lossless_Audio_Codec, is an open source, lossless compression format. A lossless file retains the exact data in the recording. The formats of most purchased downloads are either MP3 or AAC. Both are licensed, proprietary formats and result in a "lossy" compressed file. Because FLAC is open source, sellers do not have to pay a royalty. However, sellers of MP3 files are required to pay a royalty equal to 2% of the sale price http://mp3licensing.com/royalty/emd.html. AAC, which stands for advance audio coding, does not require a royalty for sale or streaming.
FLAC files can be played on some media players such as Winamp, Songbird and Windows Media player with a third-party plug-in. iTunes does not play FLAC files, thus the AAC files in "The King of Limbs" bundle. The format works with some hardware devices, including Sony's Playstation Portable, Samsung Galaxy S, SanDisk media players, BlackBerry smartphones , Boxee and LogiTech Squeezebox models.