Few new releases cause the kind of furor that Radiohead's announcement did this week. And little of it had anything to do with the music.
The band's decision to sell its new album directly to fans, and to let them decide what they want to pay for it, sparked a firestorm of speculation about how it will impact the future of the music industry.
Sure, one of the biggest bands in the world choosing to distribute a highly anticipated new release sans-label and with no real pricing strategy raises all sorts of questions about both the role of the label going forward and the value of recorded music. They're good questions that deserve to be asked.
But despite what some knee-jerk reactionaries may think, the move hardly spells the end of record labels, despite how much label-hating pundits wish it were so. Here's why:
1) Only a handful of bands could pull off something like this. Even Radiohead's attorney Don Passman says the gambit isn't meant to be a model for others to follow.
2) Not all bands are as good as selling their music as they are at making it. Anybody actually try to preorder the Radiohead album? Oops, it kind of sucked didn't it? The Web site crashed. Orders often timed out. The sales page looked horrible. If a new digital music service went live with this kind of experience it would be crucified by the same people lauding Radiohead.
3) Even if it had gone super-smooth, the direct-to-fan ploy leaves out one important element-exposing the music to new fans. Yes, believe it or not there are millions of people out there who don't know any Radiohead song past "Creep." How do they discover the band's new music if it's not on other digital services? I don't live in the music-centric hubs of New York or L.A., but in the flyover state of Colorado-you know... the real world-where the news was greeted with little more than a shrug.
4) There's going to be a physical CD distributed anyway.
That said, the labels would do well to pay close attention to how this experiment develops. There's something to be said for paying attention to fans (instead of suing them).
I love it. A bunch of techheads fancying themselves digital freedom fighters hack out a way to unlock the iPhone, only for Apple to render the devices useless with a software upgrade.
For about a week the digital sewing circle reveled in their accomplishment, filling blogs with celebratory, anti-corporate, stick-it-to-the man, power-to the-people accolades-complete with photos of the Death Star exploding as a metaphor for besting Jobs. But the Empire struck back and now they have a $600 brick for their efforts. The whole situation is just laughable. What was the point of hacking the iPhone in the first place? Just to prove you could?
These hackers chose to fight the Empire by buying its devices and then altering them to their own ends. At what point does the strategy change to just buying devices from other companies?
Not any time soon, in my opinion. The mainstream press and the general public remain enamored with Apple's products, and no other company has yet stepped in with a game-changing alternative. But, the whole situation makes me wonder if we're seeing the beginning of an Apple backlash.