Radiohead Sales Estimates Surface, New Wrinkles Emerge

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Radiohead has yet to disclose sales numbers on its latest album, In Rainbows, though fresh estimates are bubbling.

The first comes from Gigwise, which pointed to downloads of roughly 1.2 million several days ago, citing a source “close to the band”.  That figure was echoed by a similar estimate of 1.3 million received by William Blanchard, owner of digital content delivery and ecommerce firm Lambcast, Ltd.  Blanchard tracked sequential order numbers from the Radiohead website, and shared the top-level estimate with Digital Music News on Sunday.

But how many of those customers actually paid for the album?  A survey of 5,000 participating fans by the London-based Telegraph offered a possible breakdown.  The newspaper found that one quarter paid nothing or one pence, another half paid between one pence and £10 ($20.32), and the remainder volunteered higher prices or purchased the £40 ($81.30) box set.

Meanwhile, some dissatisfaction surrounds a choice by the band to deliver the album in a compression quality of 160kbps, a level that trumps iTunes but falls below standard CD-quality.  The move appears part of a larger plan to motivate purchases of the more conventional CD album, slated for release early next year.  The traditional disc – like the more complicated box version – will carry bonus tracks to encourage purchases.  “If we didn’t believe that when people hear the music they will want to buy the CD, then we wouldn’t do what we are doing,” manager Bryce Edge recently told Music Week.  “This is a solution for Radiohead, not for the industry.”