Thursday, October 11, 2007

The canny men of Radiohead

In a response to the criticism of the lowish bitrate of In Rainbows, Jonny Greenwood has tacitly acknowledged the online hoopla was intended really as promo campaign for the definitive, physical item:

I don't know, we talked about it and we just wanted to make it a bit better than iTunes, which it is, so that's kind of good enough, really. It's never going to be CD quality, because that's what CD does."

Now, since "you shouldn't encode at a CD rate because the CD will get jealous" isn't a line of argument a grown-up would essay (besides, distribution of digitally encoded music files is also 'what CD does' - and yet that didn't stop In Rainbows being digitally encoded and distributed online, did it? - we can only assume this is a slightly veiled way of saying "sure, we're not going to give it to you in CD quality because we want to sell the CDs". In other words, the ground-worryingly historic opportunity the band offered fans was to decide how much they'd pay for an advertising campaign, not a record.


13 comments:

Duncan said...

"the ground-worryingly historic opportunity the band offered fans was to decide how much they'd pay for an advertising campaign, not a record"

Only if you're one of the few people in the world who can genuinely tell the difference between 160kbps and CD quality...

-tom said...

It was obviously just a scam to make money on what would have leaked for free anyway.

So they come out on the plus side no matter how you look at it. The look like trendsetters and they make money they wouldn't have otherwise.

There's plenty of bands who have been giving their music away free. They only seem groundbreaking because they're more high profile.

Anonymous said...

If you play a 160kbps version of a tune alongside the CD version it's dead easy to tell the difference in quality so there!

Anonymous said...

Taking Greenwood's comments as proof of Radiohead's shoddy intentions is at best disingenuous IMHO. It's better than iTunes, and for most people iTunes quality is quite okay. There is a minority who will want everything in FLAC, but those people are the sort who'll spend £40 on the box set anyway.

"There's plenty of bands who have been giving their music away free. They only seem groundbreaking because they're more high profile."

It's the very fact that they're high-profile that makes this groundbreaking. If you're not selling that many copies anyway, giving away your music for free is a neat way of hawking your name around, but Radiohea don't need to do this - they'll sell hundreds of copies anyway. Sure, they're making some money from MP3s that people would get anyway, but you have to remember that they're getting them legally now, as opposed to illegally in the past. That's a big difference.

In fairness, I'd have thought that this blog would have been a little more supportive of arguably one of the biggest bands in the world trying something different (and it is different for a band this big) in terms of distribution and music usage. It's certainly 2 fingers to the industry types who would claim that free music devalues music's worth.

Paul Wells said...

came in here to add my 2p worth but I think anonymous has said most of it for me. The growth of downloading compared to the death of the traditional music store has been well documented. That Radiohead (a major cash-cow band for the industry) are happy to give away their latest product for free and at better quality than that at the most popular online music store says a lot. I think all Jonny is saying is that people who want better quality are also the 'traditionalists' who like the physical product and artwork etc. Therefore 'a bit better than iTunes' was the best quality needed.

Paul said...

I can barely tell the difference between 96kbps and CD sometimes. Perhaps these bleedin' audiophiles should go and listen to some LOUD music!

Anonymous said...

totally agree with all the positive comments about this post. 160kb is fine and dandy. fuck, i remember the napster days when 128kb was a luxury.

as someone else said, the people who are really bothered about the bitrate will be the ones who buy the £40 jobby.

on another note, i went into hmv on tottenham court road today and felt totally out of place. and i'm only 23! first time ive been in a music shop for a year or so and i ont be hurrying back

simon h b said...

I don't think it was necessarily shoddy, 6.05pm anonymous, but I think what Greenwood's comments show is that the battleplan was always to use this as a promo-device and sell the physical product at a more-than-handsome price to make the real money: which may or may not be a glowing example of capitalism in action but certainly isn't as historic in the sense that most of the media coverage would have you believe. It's a loss-leader, and it's about selling old-skool physical product.

As for the bitrate, I'm in the slightly odd position of thinking that it's actually better than Greenwood would suggest - it's he who was making the claim it was only marginally better than iTunes.

However: at least with iTunes, you know the bitrate you're buying at before you fork over the cash...

Mike said...

The debate about bitrate, certainly in the sub-192kbps region, really isn't about a bunch of oversensitive audiophiles - it's genuinely audibly weaker when listening on something better than tinny computer speakers.

Ron said...

If it's not loud enough, turn it up. Once bitrates get above 128 on something other than classical or something with a lot of layers, I can't tell the difference.

Robert Shaw said...

Also - sorry Jonny, but it's emphatically NOT better than iTunes. The reason iTunes gets away with selling at 128kbps and nobody minds is because AAC is a newer and more efficient codec than MP3.

Just to equal the quality of a 128kbps AAC you have to rip to MP3 at 192kbps. To better it - whether theoretically or actually - you'd have to rip at 256kbps.

Daniel said...

" It's a loss-leader, and it's about selling old-skool physical product."

I think the question here is whether or not you really believe that they're going to make more money this way than they would have done by releasing a CD conventionally. It just *is* the case that a conventional release would have sold an awful of CDs in the first week, and made a lot of money. It seems obvious to me that there are lots of people who would have bought a physical CD in the first week of release, but won't bother when the later physical release comes as they've already downloaded the album. So it seems clear to me that they'll sell a lot less old-skool physical product this way than by the conventional release route. Simon - do you really think they'll sell *more physical CDs* of this album in the long run by going down this route? That just seems very implausible. They may or may not make more money overall, I have no idea, but I really don't think it's a conventional loss-leader.

simon h b said...

Daniel:

I don't think they'll sell more CDs, but what they will sell is a number of higher-priced CDs and, because they're now negotiating a record deal from a position of strength, higher-priced CDs of which they will be keeping a greater proportion of the cash.

But I've certainly used "loss leader" in an untechnical sense - they're not actually losing any money on this, but they're cross-subsidising the price of the digital version from the profits of the physical version.

Still, as Stars pointed out on Gideon Coe's show on Monday, Jane Siberry did this 'pay what you think its worth' thing years ago, without - oddly - making it onto the Ten O'Clock News.

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