Dear Journalists: Please Use This Definition Of “The Radiohead Model” Going Forward

noah | March 2, 2009 11:30 am

So last week’s little controversy over Robert Smith saying that In Rainbows‘ pay-what-you-want experiment was maybe not so good for art led to me getting annoyed with the term “The Radiohead Model,” and how it’s been misused for the purposes of arguing that art should be free, or at least pay-what-you-like. (Not to mention that it also pulls quotes out of irritable pop stars.) A reader asked me to define the term outright, instead of just ranting about its misuse—and I figured that my attempt to do so was worth a post of its own. Think of it as a public service, albeit one that’s about a year and a half after the fact!

THE RADIOHEAD MODEL (n.): In the weeks and months before a band’s album is going to come out, during the period when promos would normally be made available to the press and “tastemakers,” said band allows fans to acquire low-quality MP3s for whatever price they’d like to pay—or for no price at all. (Recall that In Rainbows’ VBR was just under the OiNK standard of 192Kbps.) This way, fans can tide themselves over as discussion of the record begins from critics who have access and blogs, thus stoking discussion from all sides. The aim, of course, is for fans to be so excited about this legitimized leak, they’ll buy a higher-quality, statically priced copy of the album (whether as a high-priced, fancy-packaged special edition or just a plain old CD) come release date.

That works, I think. Any tweaks—or, heck, other ideas for definitions!—are welcome, of course.

Earlier: Everybody Hates Radiohead