Radiohead Tickles Executive Fancy, Majors Lukewarm

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Music industry executives heaped praise upon the recent, unorthodox digital sales play by Radiohead during conversations Wednesday, yet major labels were mostly lukewarm.

Earlier this week, the freshly-independent band allowed fans to name their price on the upcoming release, In Rainbows.  The timing was perfect, falling just ahead of the Digital Music Forum in Los Angeles.

David Pakman, chief executive of eMusic and a longtime advocate of DRM-free, inexpensive downloads, lauded the concept as a consumer-friendly, “healthy choice.”  According to Pakman, Radiohead is wisely placing valuation decisions into the hands of consumers, and shifting the emphasis away from more detached and arbitrary pricing processes.

Others eyed the strategy as a way to energize alienated consumers. “If you ask people for money, they will say yes,” said Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association, or DiMA.  But Potter felt that Radiohead left contribution options overly broad, instead of outlining tiers of possible payments to illicit higher contributions.  “They left an open question mark,” Potter said.

Outside of the executive forum, media sources continued to hail the initiative as a groundbreaking development.  Yet major label executives were less enthusiastic, especially given heavy marketing investments from previous partner EMI Music.  Outside of that deal, Radiohead is free to experiment with the luxury of a large and loyal audience, something few other bands enjoy.

Story by editor Paul Resnikoff in Los Angeles.