Posted on November 5, 2007
Filed Under OMG! Old Media is Dying! |
That appears to be the case if Radiohead’s experience with its new album “In Rainbows” is going to be the norm for bands that opt to let the public decide what their music is worth. The popular British band recently released their latest album directly on their website as a digital download. Fans were able to download the album for whatever price they were willing to pay, including $0. A study released today revealed that most downloaders (62%) chose $0.
While it is possible that Radiohead’s experiment could still be financially rewarding over the long-term, the fact that the majority of downloaders decided not to pay for an album produced by an extremely popular band whose previous albums were always chart-toppers does seem to prove that the in the digital age, a significant number of consumers don’t value content enough to want to pay for it. Of course, this is not surprising. When given the opportunity to take something of value for free (especially legally), most people will do so.
Without getting into a discussion about artists versus labels and consumers versus the RIAA, I think the bigger topic that needs to be addressed is the value of content to the consumer in the digital age. The problem is not that consumers think content has been overvalued by content producers, it’s that many of them seem to believe that content has absolutely no value whatsoever. Proponents of the “democratization of content” (the typical euphemism used by those who think content should be free) typically justify their support of content theft by pointing out that the record labels exploit artists and that old media companies have taken advantage of their monopolies to profit from now-antiquated business models. What interests me about the initial results of Radiohead’s experiment is that Radiohead cut out these evil middlemen. It went straight to consumers and asked them to pay whatever they thought their content was worth. And most didn’t pay a single cent.
The fact that most consumers are cheapskates who don’t value content doesn’t surprise or disappoint me. Again, if you offer a person something for free, there’s a good chance he or she will take it for free even if the long-term consequence of that action is negative (i.e. the artist doesn’t make money and eventually has to get a job at McDonald’s). By my own admission, if I liked Radiohead I’d still probably be part of the 62% who didn’t offer a cent for the new album. After all, I love a bargain and would much prefer to . And while I don’t pretend to have all the solutions to the challenges content producers face in today’s market, I do have some questions for the ideologues who always justify the “content should be free” mantra with their complaints about greedy record label execs and dinosaur media moguls:
- Why didn’t the fact that evil middlemen had been cut out of the equation encourage more consumers to pay for Radiohead’s album?
- If Radiohead, an incredibly popular band with a large fan following, couldn’t encourage more than 38% of downloaders to pay even a cent for its content, how are new acts and independents supposed to make this model, or similar models, work financially, especially when they don’t have the marketing muscle of the labels (who of course helped Radiohead gain its popularity)?
- How and why will content producers continue to produce content if the majority of consumers aren’t willing to pay for it and those who do may be willing to pay an amount that isn’t economically viable for the producer?
I await some answers.
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