"In Rainbows" Pirated A Lot, Despite Name-Your-Price Deal

Radiohead may have moved 1.2 million copies of its new album “In Rainbows” when it was released last week, but according to industry analysts, over 500,000 copies were downloaded through old-fashioned file sharing networks, eroding the perceived success of the distribution plan and possibly hindering similar release plans for other artists in the future.

The Forbes journalist writes, “But more surprising is that fans chose to steal music they could legally download for any price they choose,” but it’s not clear whether that’s the analyst’s opinion or the writer’s. At any rate, we think it’s overstating the issue. Even the analyst admits that it’s not proof that Radiohead’s fans are a mutinous lot of anarchists:

Garland argues that this kind of digital theft is more a matter of habit than of economics. “People don’t know Radiohead’s site. They do know their favorite BitTorrent site and they use it every day,” he says. “It’s quite simply easier for folks to get the illegal version than the legal version.”

We know someone (ahem)* who couldn’t complete the check-out process on three separate occasions on the day the album was released, and who subsequently went the file-sharing route—but this is exactly the problem with Radiohead’s experiment, says a university professor:

But for Doug Lichtman, an intellectual property professor at the UCLA School of Law, the volume of piracy following In Rainbows’ release erodes the success of Radiohead’s innovation. “If the community rejects even forward-thinking experiments like this one, real harm is done to the next generation of experimentation and change,” he says.

Lichtman speculates that users may have interpreted Radiohead’s offer as a giveaway and so felt more comfortable downloading the album from other free sources. Fans may also have been turned off by the band’s requirement that users register by providing their name and e-mail and postal addresses.

* This person went back and bought the album legitimately via the website at a later date.

“Free? Steal It Anyway” [Forbes via Slashdot]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    Does that really matter if they cover their costs and make a bit of a profit to stay alive?

    That said, are you really surprised that people are that cheap? It’s not surprising to me especially when you consider that we’re getting screwed in so many other places. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s ow it is, with having to pay more for seemingly everything else people do what they can to get by, and if they can cut out some costs (with whatever justification they may have) they will.

  2. INconsumer says:

    i think its just easier to use p2p programs or torrent downloaders. easier, faster. and americans are lazy so go figure.

  3. Coconut says:

    If the album is given for free how in the hell can there be an illegal version. This is stupid beyond belief. So what if people decide to get it from a P2P program. It is perfectly legal for them to share the file as it is free.

  4. JKinNYC says:

    I pirated it, because their site was down. When it came back, I paid for it. This is the first major artist record I’ve paid for in years, because I felt like I was actually rewarding them, not a fat-ass record exec.

  5. JPropaganda says:

    I bought mine for 46 pence!

  6. Finder says:

    @INconsumer: Yes, because only Americans download albums.

    I don’t really see how it matters either way, people are going to download regardless of the price or method an album is being distributed. Fact of the matter is, for a few days it was probably EASIER to get the album via BT or P2P networks because the In Rainbows site was dog slow for days after the release.

    Radiohead is still guaranteed to have made money from this venture, however, merely due to how much more they are making per sale as opposed to the small amount per album they’d receive through traditional album sales. Even one person paying $10 for the download is enough to cover at least five people not paying anything.

  7. Jesus Christ. When people are too lazy and self-absorbed to buy music for 46p, then I lose faith in everything.

  8. Radiohead still made much more money off the release of this album than had they proceeded through a label. Probably 3 to 4 times as much.

    If filesharing put a dent in that total, fine, but it’s a fact that remains. I think that alone is enough to continue calling the experiment a success.

  9. INconsumer says:

    i paid $5 for a rap album from some kid rapping on the streets of las vegas. i’ll admit he was good, and i got a cool souvenir, and story for $5. not bad.

  10. Tush says:

    I paid $10 dollars for the album. I better get some thanks from those 5 people I’ve covered.

  11. Jaysyn was banned for: https://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Sorry, but (most) other artists don’t care how many times the album has been pirated, they are much, much more interesteed in how much profit Radiohead made.

    And so am I.

  12. INconsumer says:

    @Finder: hey i can’t speak for other countries. america is lazy though. our obesity rate is sick.

  13. Chairman-Meow says:

    Notice the spin on this article. No matter how much money radiohead made on this deal, the “industry Insiders” and those in the business will use it as justification for their DRM laden old ways of doing business.

  14. bobblack says:

    Being the consumerly and economically savvy band that they are, I’m sure Radiohead expected some P2P sharing.

    They’ve pretty much embraced new technology and recording formats, so I’m sure they’re not gritting their teeth at this news (besides the fact that 1.2 million copies purchased and receiving 100% of the profits with no record company taking a cut makes for a good wad of cash).

    That said, I paid $15 for mine to support the cause.

  15. “People don’t know Radiohead’s site. They do know their favorite BitTorrent site and they use it every day,” he says.

    Garland makes an excellent point. How many of the people who downloaded it via a file sharing program didn’t know about the name your price deal? How many of the people who did know about the name your price deal went and paid for it after using something like Bit Torrent?

    They never consider the fact that some of the people downloading through illegal channels do pay for the content and therefore don’t count as lost revenue. How many times have we heard that someone bought X but then had to download it anyway because DRM or other problems prevented X from working properly?

  16. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    I like the rationalization by some posters. Since Radiohead still made enough money to pay their rent, the experiment was a success. Someday we’ll lament the passing of the great musical album – the result of a band holing up in a studio for a year or two and pouring all their blood, sweat, and tears into 8-10 songs that we’ll listen to over and over. Instead we’re going to have an industry of ring tones, one-hit wonders, and the same special effects created by the same producers.

  17. INconsumer says:

    i like how the article says people used “old fashioned file sharing networks”. yeah they are so old let me tell you when i was a kid we had to download 15 miles through the snow both ways.

  18. enm4r says:

    I pirated as well. For the reasons already mentioned.

    1) I want a physical CD, I plan on buying it in the spring, which is when reports are it will come out.
    2) Their site was down the day of, tried every couple hours all day with no luck.
    3) I wasn’t goign to pay for it through their site anyway.

    Add those up, and you get recipe for a pirate. Still remains that I’ll be buying it whenever I can grab it on a physical CD, the album is amazing, but I guess I’m also on on the “pirate” tally.

    The experiment was great, the biggest complaint I can think of is inability to handle the volume, and the fact that the bitrate was pretty low. 192 should be absolute minimum, but I’d expect even higher if I’m paying.

  19. Finder says:

    @stanfrombrooklyn: And I love the chicken little posters like yourself who think the sky is in constant danger of falling.

    Bottom line is we are still seeing plenty of albums being released by great artists and I have yet to see the piece-meal, ring-tone future you and your ilk love to predict.

  20. INconsumer says:

    music has time periods/era’s. thats why we don’t sing the same songs as homer, or earlier era’s. orchestras and such have already had their fan peak and probably won’t expand anymore. i’m don’t think the future of music will be pretty, but then again, if we could travel back to shakespear days, they probably would say the same about todays music.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    One of the biggest myths that RIAA peddles is that *every* illegal download is a lost sale. Many will sample something they’d never buy if it’s free. Confirm it’s not their cuppa, then move on. So it’s not lost sales this represents, but people that weren’t going to buy anyway. Yet some of those, as seen here, end up buying anyway. In other words, promotional efforts that translate to unexpected sales. That’s part of what’s going on here.

  22. INconsumer says:

    lets face it. i’ve never bought an album after i’ve downloaded it. i have downloaded it after i bought it and it got scratched up.

    i will buy something i know is good all the way through. like a tool album or something. but to pay $16 for a 16 song cd that you only like 3 songs on, is why i download. i download stuff i wouldn’t pay for like rap, punk, ska, etc (unless its good).

  23. Mr. Gunn says:

    So how much money did they make, compared to how much profit(not sales) they(not the label) would have gotten through a label release?

  24. edrift101 says:

    So, 1.2 Million album downloads were sold. If each person paid $10 for the album (like myself and my roommate), the band made $12,000,000 (minus expenses like studio time, server space, etc…)

    Sounds like the experiment went extremely well to me!

  25. lemur says:

    Two observations:

    a) I think it is waaaay to early to draw conclusions from this experiment. (Shame on Forbes for jumping the gun so naively.) We should give it a least months before expecting a verdict. For one thing, this experiment may have a positive impact on revenue from concerts, merchandise, etc. if it results in more exposure for Radiohead. (I, for one, did not know the band was still around.)

    b) The only people who can call the experiment a success or not is Radiohead and their accountant(s). I doubt any third party really knows what costs were involved in this experiment and how it compares with previous Radiohead releases in terms of clear profit for the band.

  26. rjhiggins says:

    @edrift101: Well, we already know just from the people posting here that many paid anywhere from nothing to 46 pence. You’re dreaming if you think each person paid anything close to $10.

    I think this experiment raises serious questions about the arguments put forth by the anti-DRM lobby — though I don’t expect them to see it that way.

  27. hubris says:

    Umm…did you miss this part from the *chairman* of EMI?:

    “The recorded music industry … has for too long been dependent on how many CDs can be sold,” writes Guy Hands, EMI’s chairman. “The industry, rather than embracing digitalization and the opportunities it brings for promotion of product and distribution through multiple channels, has stuck its head in the sand. Radiohead’s actions are a wake-up call which we should all welcome and respond to with creativity and energy.”

    A change is gonna come.

  28. Gesualdo says:

    I had preordered In Rainbows, yet the email they sent on the release date didn’t work. Rather than go through their rather slow registration process again, I hopped on utorrent and had the album within seconds.

  29. kwsdurango says:

    I paid 1 Pound + 45P for processing. I figured that would be about what Radiohead would net. It didn’t appear that they spent much on the website – or the back-end because it did crash a few times before I could get it. I like the music and am happy with what I paid.

    I haven’t purchased music on CD’s from a store in a long time. Most recently it’s been iTunes, etc. My preference would be to buy direct from bands whenever possible.

    In contrast to some, I have purchased music after downloading it free in order to get entire albums, additional albums or higher quality.

    I’m not a fan of giving money to record co’s. but bands do work to produce music and deserve to get something from their work and time.

  30. JKinNYC says:

    for the record, I paid 2.22 GBP, which worked out to be about $5.60 with the fee.

  31. MercuryPDX says:

    The fact that people are still going to the site and paying to download the song(s) despite it now being available on P2P networks hardly says “Failure” to me.

  32. anyanka323 says:

    It was faster and easier Wednesday and Thursday to get it off a torrent or P2P network. Their site seem unprepared for the traffic that hit it and was down or was very slow for most of those two days.

    I torrented it, but plan on buying the physical CD release sometime next year when it comes out, hopefully with more tracks.

  33. @rjhiggins:

    I paid the equivalent of 8$ US, which was supposedly the average. However I think lemur has it right: nobody knows how well this went except Radiohead. Likewise Front_Towards_Enemy makes the good point that this is just a big old pile of spin from a fluffy, far-too-soon-to-tell article.

  34. Toast442 says:

    I had to “pirate” it. Despite paying almost $10 for the album, I never received my email with the download link. 30 seconds of searching, however, got a BitTorrent download.

    After an email to their tech support, they replied a day later with a generic download link.

    I think it’s a bit premature to call this a failure. Radiohead’s website was pretty much overwhelmed and made it a pain in some cases to purchase a legal copy. I can easily see people who are used to getting illegal copies of music just sticking with what they know. Even in this case, it was probably easier.

    People are cheap lazy bastards. I REALLY want to know what the average person paid for the digital-only download. I bet it was close to $3, if that.

  35. tcbg says:

    You pirates claiming you don’t want to pay know you can “buy” the album for 0 pounds, right? 0, as in, FREE? And yeah, the site was a little slow, but the actual download took about 3 minutes – way faster than any p2p.

    Oh right, but the site was way too slow…another example of the ADD-esque need for instant gratification in our society. Not to mention the laziness and unwillingess to work for/pay for the things we want. “I don’t have the money to pay for the album, and I’m sure as hell not going to get a job to EARN the money for it! I’ll just download it!”

  36. Coconut says:

    I am a pencil artist. When I sell prints the owners are entitled to do what ever they want with them except make copies to sell. I do not expect to be paid every time someone looks at my pictures. I do not expect to make money for years and years on the same picture either. This is insane I set a price for a picture and that is what I expect. I set the number of prints to a reasonable number and cost. If the print is sold by the owner for more money I am not entitled to any of it. Why in the hell is music so different and why do people believe RIAA and musicians deserve constant payments for the rest of their lives for a single piece of work? I don’t get it.

  37. boandmichele says:

    i pirated it.

    …because the morning of the 10th, their site was hammered and unavailable for me. so i torrented it quickly and listened to it on the way to work. (i am a huge radiohead fan and have been since the bends. this is no justification, but i was very excited about lp7)

    then, when i got home that night, and radiohead.com had slowed down, i bought it from them for 10 pounds.

    that way, they can track it, they get some money, and i still get my music.

    the 500k downloads are significantly affected by the fact that their server was down/slow. just read the comments on demonoid from the people who downloaded it.

  38. King of the Wild Frontier says:

    @Front_Towards_Enemy: Too right.

    @stanfrombrooklyn: What color is the sky on your planet? On mine, the sky is blue, and most bands don’t make any money from their records–the record companies leech it off [www.negativland.com] –and yet, bands still make albums. Go figure.

  39. nerdup says:

    After all of this time, I highly doubt Radiohead give a shit about how much money they’re going to make off of their record sales alone. Who are they, Metallica? If so, they would’ve just put it up for $10 and that would be that. I’m sure they’re much more interested in having the product of all that hard work listened to and appreciated by their fans, new and old, with the real results showing itself in merch and ticket revenues anyway. This one is for the fans, and that is effing awesome of them. I paid $0.00, with the intention of ordering the special edition vinyl, and had no problems with the download at all.

  40. Macroy says:

    I’m confused. What makes these copies “illegal,” if you can download the album for FREE from their site?

    (Note: It really is free from their site. I tried it.)

  41. Buran says:

    @omerhi: Talk is cheap. He needs to put his money where his mouth is.

  42. dapuddle says:

    How many albums do you think would have been downloaded if the album wasn’t released as ‘pay what you want’.

    I checked out the Radiohead site. Kind of found it to be a bit hard to follow. Not really a real attempt to sell direct if you ask me. I downloaded it for free via a bitorrent site.

    I haven’t bought an album for 10 years. I did however just spend $375 for two tickets to Bon Jovi (hey it was as present for the wife!… and I think they are cheesy to so don’t even bother flaming me!)

    My point is that until the record industry figures out that all they are doing is alienating fans, they will quickly become irrelevant, if they haven’t already. The customers can get their product for free elsewhere, they need to find alternate revenue streams, IE overpriced concert tickets.

  43. wezelboy says:

    When media executives and journalists get their heads out of each other’s asses and realize that the client/server model of file disribution is hopelessly antiquated, then they will be making some progress in this issue.

    Last time I checked, bittorrent is still the most efficient means of distributing big files to lots of people. When a media company picks it up and offers compensation for my upload bandwidth then they will get my money. Until then…

    Harrr Mates! (Pirate ‘H’ is silent dontcha know!)

    P.S. I didn’t pirate the album FWIW.

  44. Narockstar says:

    I’m really interested to see how this will turn out. I paid about $6 for mine. I don’t want to be cheap to Radiohead, but I’m poor right now and without a physical cd, I think that $6 is pretty fair, especially since I’ve paid $50+ to see them live each time they’ve come through.

  45. MYarms says:

    Guess what? If the Radiohead servers hadn’t been completely crashed when I went to purchase the album then perhaps they would have gotten a few bucks from me. Instead I used the good ol’ p2p services and received the album in less than 4 minutes. Perhaps some day when I remember I’ll go back and give them some money for it. I’d really like to get that boxed version but not for 80 bucks, that’s a little steep for my tastes though you can probably download that too.

  46. Geekybiker says:

    Their site doesnt work properly with firefox which added to the frustration. I’m not a radiohead fan, but eventually booted up IE and downloaded a legit copy. I think even if they make a couple bucks per copy on average and get similar sales to traditional distribution, they are way ahead of the game.

  47. lemur says:

    @Macroy: You asked:

    I’m confused. What makes these copies “illegal,” if you can download the album for FREE from their site?

    AFAIK, Radiohead is selling their album for any price you want but they have neither given up their copyright on their album nor have they given anybody a blanket license to copy their album. Therefore, copying their album is still illegal under copyright law. In other words, because someone gives you their copyrighted work for free, it does not automatically mean you have the right to copy it.

    The only way in which their “name your price” scheme affects their copyright is that it would certainly complicate the determination of damages if they were to sue someone for copyright infringement. It might perhaps even make a lawsuit against a typical Joe User who downloaded the album from bittorrent moot because the judge might determine that the damages caused by the illegal copying is $0.

  48. joebloe says:

    Artists make $1-$2 per albumso they really didn’t loose money going this route.

  49. peggynature says:

    @INconsumer: Way to include a damaging stereotype about fat people in a completely unrelated thread! You made my day.

  50. Graedus says:

    Things to do:
    Make 5mil pounds in one week – check
    Have everyone in the world listen to your music – check

    From a band’s perspective, you can’t really put a damper on that.

    There were also a ton of people that used BitTorrent to download their music after having paid, instead of using the Radiohead site after they get the email.

  51. amoeba says:

    The interesting thing is that the people; whom illegally uploaded/downloaded the album from other sources, only got the 10 songs. I think (just my opinion) Radiohead new this would happen, I don’t get why many people got problems paying from waste site, so far my transaction was very fast. And I was pleased!
    The great thing is that I will have my 17 songs in a double CD and 2 records by December. For sure an unscrupulous person (or may I say people) will upload/download the whole album, that’s for sure. And that’s sad. Me, as an Artist it is very disturbing.

  52. amoeba says:

    …Radiohead knew this would happen. Sorry!

  53. Roundonbothends says:

    I got to their checkout thinking I’d pay about 75% of what it would cost at Wally World, but when I saw that they wanted more personal information than required for a credit card payment or Paypal submission, I said, “Screw this. I don’t NEED their music.”

    So I went to iTunes and picked up Travis’s “Singles” album for $9.95. One click.

  54. wildfire991 says:

    I didn’t buy (but didn’t download either) when I heard the pay-to-download tracks were not even 320kbps. What was the bitrate on the p2p files? How many downloaders bought the disc/download but wanted (ironically) better quality tracks? And how many downloaders simply didn’t have a credit card (or are too young to have one)?

    I went to their site and was disappointed at how visually messy it was, the lack of any demo tracks so I could hear what I was buying first, and I never did even find the page to enter my CC info. It was overall a disappointing experience. I’m not surprised to hear this at all. Perhaps it really was more of a publicity stunt than a serious attempt at breaking traditional music channels.

  55. DanGross says:

    What seems to be missed on this is questioning of the veracity of the data being offered. This “Big Champagne” company is frequently being quoted by “big media” for having accurate file share download statistics when such data are impossible to get. They don’t publish their methodologies, and in fact when pressed will say that they aren’t measuring downloads per se, but more searches and offerings. A pretty good breakdown of what they apparently do (and don’t do) is available here. Bottom line: there is no one way to accurately aggregate how many people have downloaded a song/album through file-sharing.

    So you add the fact that the official server was hammered (according to the posters here), that file sharers who downloaded from the official server probably put it in their shared offerings (sharers do as sharers do), and the flawed data from Big Champagne and you have Forbes making extremely flawed conclusions. They spend a lot of time in the article focusing on the sharing, but spend little time talking of the success of the offering. In fact the one paragraph describing the scope of the success (judging from everyone’s complaint about the servers being down it’s clear the label greatly underestimated the popularity) is poo-pooed in the following paragraph. Only the label knows the amount of money made, but considering all the free publicity this stunt generated, plus the highly reduced cost of the offering, it is a highly profitable means of offering the music. That the label chairman is applauding the results, and not using the opportunity to decry how the label is “losing out” to piracy even given these “damning numbers” says a lot as to the success of the program. When is the last time you’ve heard a label not using a readily available opportunity to cry how piracy is ruining the business?

  56. ian937262 says:

    doesn’t mean shit, Some people did both.

  57. dextrone says:

    HAHA I got a faster download for free. I put the price as 0.00…..I just wanted to try out the music, but I didn’t like it so, in the recycle bin it goes. Oh well. This is funny, but I guess their servers would be overloaded (or they’d get a huge bandwidth bill) if that (500K people using 0.00 as the purchase price) happened. (so the file sharing thing actually saved them money?)

  58. yetiwisdom says:

    @JKinNYC: I think a lot of users had problems with the download from the Radiohead site. I didn’t, but I also saw the email come in @ 1:42AM my time and immediately downloaded it. I saw a thread on WIRED with a bunch of pissed-off people who hadn’t “gotten what they paid for”. So I’m sure the vast majority of the “pirates” were paid users that had trouble. And, while I’m sure it wasn’t intended, Radiohead effectively saved the cost of bandwidth for all of those users that went to BT instead of their servers. Maybe that should be the model – let users pick their flavor – BT users get a torrent file first and direct download users get their link later.

    Oh, and by the way, I bought not one but two of the $80 box sets.