According to internet research firm Comscore, only 38% of people who downloaded Radiohead’s In Rainbows album paid anything for it. This finding (which I can’t discover whether it is based on a sample of downloaders or on all of them) has been seized upon by the record industry as proof that the experiment was a failure. Even if the stats are dead on, their arguments are flawed for a number of reasons.
1. They take no account of the sales of the double CD / double vinyl ‘Discbox’ edition which was retailing for £40.
2. I know for a fact that some people have had problems with a download they paid for. So they downloaded it again for nothing.
3. There is a physical CD release planned for the near future. Many people will have taken that into account and downloaded the music for nothing to tide them over until the CD is issued (with obviously superior sound quality).
4. The average price paid per download according to the survey was $2.26 (excluding credit card fee) which is probably pretty comparable to the royalty rate that the band would have got on a conventional release.
The media have already got hold of the story, and like all stories involving statistics, are bending the figures to suit whichever argument they want to put. Most of the news is fed to us from conglomerates who will be sympathetic to the record industry, so the slant of the news stories is going to be negative. I think it was a bold move, and it seems to have paid off for the band. Whether it is a workable model for everyone is a moot point. I have a personal resistance to downloads. I like to have something physical for my money, rather than just a stream of ones and zeros. You can’t slap a download on Ebay if you get bored with it!
Personally I think that the future will definitely see a massive fall in the sale of music in traditional, physical formats. But the sectors most affected will be mainstream, middle of the road rock and pop. I can’t see classical buffs being satisfied with the Ring Cycle on MP3, no matter how good the quality becomes. Similarly, there will always be plenty of collectors who want the artefact, the whole package, rather than just the tunes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many folk buying seven inch singles these days don’t play them (some don’t even have a deck). Instead they’ll download the tunes to their MP3 player, while the record is little more than an art object.
Vinyl was supposed to have died out 15 years ago, but it persists. It persists because there are plenty of folk who enjoy the whole experience that a record provides. I guess in time downloads will be the new paperbacks, but there will always be a market for a well bound, solid, hardback book.
For the record, I paid £3 for my copy of In Rainbows. I think it’s a great album. I’ve burned a copy on to CDR, but I’ll probably buy a proper physical copy one day (admittedly, as a seasoned scavenger of bargain bins, it’s unlikely to be new!)