A Few Questions That Weren’t Answered By Yesterday’s Happy Radiohead Announcement

Oct 16th, 2008 // 12 Comments

In honor of In Rainbows‘ one-year anniversary, the UK branch of Warner Chappell, which licensed all digital rights for the album, released a few statistics about its “pay-as-you-like” digital release, as well as some notes on the the physical distribution of the album. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Radiohead made money from the record–the band earned more money from just the digital revenues on In Rainbows than they ever made on Hail To The Thief, and sold 100,000 copies* of the $82 discbox and 1.75 million copies of the physical CD on top of that. Sure, more people wound up filesharing the album than paying for it, but still, it’s good news, right? Well, maybe! I felt like there were a few obvious factoids missing from all the hoopla about Thom Yorke making bank.

What was the average price per download? The obvious question, and one that Dyball punted, only saying that “the average price went down after the download moved from uberfans to less committed fans, as expected.” And presumably those fans who are even less committed than the less-committed fans who went to the official site just torrented the thing anyway.

How much did the bandwidth and servers cost? Believe me, I know that space on the Internet is not cheap, and I’d imagine that not breaking the Internet hundreds of thousands of simultaneous downloads would be an endeavor that would cost a lot of money.

How much did the discbox cost, manufacturing-wise? Once I received my package, I realized that the $82 I’d electronically plunked down was absolutely worth it. But the packaging wasn’t so elaborate that Radiohead had a “Blue Monday” situation on its hands, I hope.

What were the costs for PR? Radiohead might have announced the release of the album via its own blog, but those e-mails from Nasty Little Man about how digital copies of the record weren’t being sent out to writers before the Oct. 10 street date, no matter how important their publication or how much they had to cost something. These kinds of costs are rarely factored into discussions of profitability, but can be larger than the recording of the album itself (Although there’s no doubt that the band benefited from quite a bit of free “Holy (Paradigm) Shi(f)t!” publicity.)

Regarding the stat about how In Rainbows made more in download form than Hail to the Thief–is that total revenue earned by that album, or Radiohead’s royalty take-home? Sure, it’s nitpicky, but sing it with me… “The more you knoooow…” (Plus, this will allow other artists dipping their toes into this particular bog to budget their endeavors like this in a more effective way. See? Everybody wins!)

Did In Rainbows make more money than Hail To The Thief because it’s a better album than Hail To The Thief? Just putting it out there.

I’m not begrudging Radiohead their successes, but it does seem that these questions are sort of key to getting the whole picture of what happened a year ago, instead of a canvas that has nothing on it but a big Yorkeian smiley face. Speaking of which, it’s been way too long since we’ve seen this:

Exclusive: Warner Chappell reveals Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ pot of gold [Music Ally]

* Wasn’t the discbox limited to 100,000 copies? My memory might be faulty.

  1. Anonymous

    LOLZ at that picture. I still have that as the cover art that pops up on my iTunes.

  2. Chris Molanphy

    All good and valid questions. None of which, in typical coy Radiohead style, will ever be answered.

  3. Anonymous

    um….Hail to the Thief was better than In Rainbows. Just sayin.

    And now I’m going to get a thousand people disagreeing with me.

  4. SomeSound-MostlyFury

    @chachwitablog: If you include the second disc of In Rainbows, which in my mind was Radiohead’s most forgettable output ever, then I might actually agree with you. I still really enjoy Hail to the Thief.

  5. Chris Molanphy
  6. DocStrange

    Whereas Hail to the Thief houses my all time, hands down favorite Radiohead song (“Myxomatosis”), I liked In Rainbows far more than HttT.

  7. Lucas Jensen

    @SomeSound-MostlyFury: That second disc was rough. I wonder if those songs never even made it to proper Radiohead post-production, where they chop it up and stuff.

  8. sparkletone

    * Wasn’t the discbox limited to 100,000 copies? My memory might be faulty.


    It sold out.

  9. How do I say this ... THROWDINI!
  10. Lucas Jensen

    @chachwitablog: Three. I can’t even remember songs off Hail to the Thief after listening tons of times.

  11. Lucas Jensen

    @sparkletone: So, it’s weird that they didn’t say sold out. Maybe they thought that saying 100,000 sounded better, but you could say both, no? Sold out sounds pretty good as well.

  12. Anonymous

    A few of things that bother me here:

    As a business, why should Radiohead be obliged to answer any of these questions (pr costs? manufacturing costs? bandwidth costs?) One might imagines, that if they’re running their band as a business, that they’d have a fair idea of profit and loss, margins (on things like the box-set) and overall costs. Name another business that should be expected to reveal that kind of info?

    As if to illustrate this point, I doubt VERY MUCH that Radiohead had ANY IDEA what the total earnings of HTTT were, given EMI’s (and most labels) accounting magic tricks. So the earnings were, undoubtedly, based on an improvement on their royalty take home. NIN’s discbox earned Mr. Reznor more than he’d ever made from a label – for good reason.

    And these questions are incredibly short-sighted. The most innovative part of this whole deal was the fact that Radiohead and Warner/Chappell circumvented MCPS/PRS (automatically adding an extra 15% on all performance income received by the band/publisher).

    Not only that, unlike any other record, they OWN the record – and will received 100% of any license of the sound recording (as opposed to NOTHING on any deal signed on one of their EMI owned albums) And that’s inperpetuity.

    There were definitely costs that the band would have to absorb in this model that they traditionally would defer to EMI, but as a business decision it was an incredibly wise (and profitable) one.

    And more importantly, there is NO REASON given the model that any band with any kind of viable income at the moment couldn’t go the same route.

    But yes, In Rainbows is WAY better than Hail to the Thief.

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