Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Radiohead: unwitting players in an imaginary revolution

When Radiohead announced that it would allow downloads of its new In Rainbow album, fans and the media talked about a revolution in the music industry. Not only was the band by-passing the music labels, and offering its music directly to users, but it was offering the music for download in MP3 format at a price chosen by the user.

This move certainly appealed to the residual hippie in all of us, and also cheered up a lot of folks who have been chafing under DRM (digital rights management), and hoping for a revolution in the music industry.

It turns out that the downloads came at a sound quality that was not optimum, as it was encoded at a bit rate of 160 kbps (kilobits per second), according to a report in USA Today.

Contrary to earlier reports, the downloads were only promotional, and the CDs of In Rainbow, with top quality sound, will be on the shelves in January, according to the report. In fact, when I visited www.inrainbows.com last week, there was an option to pre-order for £40 a discbox.

In an interview to MusicWeek, the band’s managers Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge described the downloads as a mere “promotional tool”.

Far from being enthusiastic about digital downloads, both managers strongly favour the compact disc as a format of superior quality, according to MusicWeek. “CDs are a fantastic bit of kit,” Edge told MusicWeek. “You can’t listen to a Radiohead record on MP3 and hear the detail; it’s impossible.” Edge recommends labels get aggressive about promoting CD, according to MusicWeek.

The interview in MusicWeek was published October 8, ahead of October 10 when the downloads were available. It is hence tought to justify that Radiohead ot its managers did a con job. It is just that these days users and the media are hoping for a revolution in the music industry, to the point of imagining and contriving one.

This week there was again widespread coverage on Led Zeppelin offering their music for the first time online next month.

To my mind nothing earthshaking about that. Like the music labels, the British rock group is exploring alternative channels as CD sales have been flagging. Don’t look for revolutionary meanings between the lines ! This is a plain business decision. "The addition of the digital option will better enable fans to obtain our music in whichever manner that they prefer," guitarist Jimmy Page said Monday, according to this report.

Related articles:

The Internet helps RIAA squeeze profits
Universal Music short on ideas to take on iTunes

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