Dear Apple, Thanks for Making Our Content Worthless. Signed, Radiohead…

Has it all just been commoditized and devalued beyond repair? Yes, according to Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, lauded as both a music and digital pioneer alike.  When asked by the Guardian how he viewed Apple and Google, not to mention other digital giants, Yorke pointed to a depressing devaluation that may be irreversible.

“They have to keep commodifying things to keep the share price up, but in doing so they have made all content, including music and newspapers, worthless, in order to make their billions. And this is what we want?”

Actually, content — that is, the word ‘content’ — is a major part of the problem, according to Yorke. “We were so into the net around the time of Kid A,” Yorke relayed. “We really thought it might be an amazing way of connecting and communicating.  And then very quickly we started having meetings where people started talking about what we did as ‘content‘. They would show us letters from big media companies offering us millions in some mobile phone deal or whatever it was, and they would say all they need is some content.

“I was like, what is this ‘content’ which you describe? Just a filling of time and space with stuff, emotion, so you can sell it?”
And then there’s In Rainbows, regarded as an earth-shattering, daring experiment that would change the face of music pricing and access forever.  But that was way back in 2007, when digital utopia was still under construction.

Radiohead never did it again.

40 Responses

  1. REMatwork

    Yorke is right. It has been devalued. But it is totally unnecessary. Wisdom from the securities industry that could fix the Internet content devaluation problem is being ignored.
    Immobilization, Registration and Verification. These are the three simple building blocks of a fix being engineered over at the Digital Content Exchange.
    Voluntary opt-in customer registration. “If they know who you are, they can know what you own or borrow”.

  2. Jaded Industry Dude

    Why must people listen to Thom and Trent as true aids to musicians? They are nothing but misguided genius-fools. What really cripples my knickers is that they act like experts then realize they are not, but side-step the admittance of it.

    • crooked

      thom and trent made their millions in the 90’s on the shoulders of major labels and corporations. now that they’re sitting pretty while other musicians are struggling, they can afford to be high-and-mighty about art vs. commerce.

      • iggypopbarker

        That first quote, he could just as easily be talking about record companies in the 70s, 80s or 90s…

      • juan adams

        no no no. there was a lot of difficult work securing trent’s first major contract and a lot of corporate greed holding up his second album (five years!). trent made his money off of constant touring. i worked in the studio where he did much work on the first album and i am friends with the warner exec who finagled his deal with tvt. the artists who lived the nightmare are the experts and most of the f-up’s from the labels have since been fired. “content” is something that people have no problem stealing. no respect from the marketers, no respect from the market.

      • Soniquarium Muzika

        More ranting from “Philosophy” and crying about devalued products. Selling a song for a buck and a quarter has allowed many unsigned artist to be free and not kept down by the “Major Clowns” at the MAJOR LABLES.
        Apple has allowed the freedom of expression to turn into commerce. The major artist, can well, jump off a bridge for all I care. Do not deliver your “Content” to any download site. Build your own store and sell at what ever price you feel is right.
        I get cks every month from Itunes, even at the price of 3 bucks or so for a mini EP. Sure, I sold Vinly for 4.50 a pop with two tracks on it and Virgin Stores, indepents sold those Eps for 22 bucks or more. But you don’t hear me bitch’n. My overhead in release has drop’d 1000’s %. No, upfront cost at 5k to press a few EPs. No boxes sent back from Watts, because logics was all messed up or because that EP didn’t sell. No more waiting a year for payments.
        Major Artist, the whole lot are clowns. Radio Head, the biggest of the bunch.

  3. Dave

    Wah! We’re making millions of dollars for something we enjoy doing, but the hand that feeds us isn’t talking about our work the right way!
    They should be sucking the d—s of those executives for finding a way to make so much money off of something people don’t even need. As a musician, even I would say it’s a bit ridiculous that these guys make more than a physician who goes through 12 years of higher education and…oh yeah…saves lives. Not to mention, there are TONS of other musicians who would kill for the chance to have these kinds of “problems.”
    If Radiohead was so “nonconformist” or “in it for the sake of art,” they would be making music as a hobby. When you do something for money, it’s called a job. If you care so much more about the art form than the “almighty dollar,” then why aren’t you playing free shows at community centers?
    Oh, that’s right, because you’re a hypocrite.

      • ceebee

        Just because they’ve made millions of dollars on the old system doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to comment on the new system and how they think it does or doesn’t work for artists today.

        When I see major acts trying to make a difference, find a solution, or even just point out the flaws, I am glad that artists in the industry who have the potential power to bring light to an issue or make a difference that benefits the rest of us are trying to do so. What’s wrong with seeing people and groups like this as champions instead of a threat? It’s not like they’re stopping you from being a hobby musician or giving things away for free if that’s what you want to do.

      • juan adams

        it’s kind of funny that i’d halfway expect informed dialog on this site. let’s be clear. it’s the fans of radiohead who spent the millions of dollars that made the band successful. i own all of their albums and not once did i feel as if i were buying “content.” it was the labels that, in direspecting the art, devalued it, themselves and everyone involved in the distribution, promotion and sales of it. but no, the labels are not some miraculous hand that feeds. they invest in sure things, make obscene profits and are ruthless in their punishment when thing don’t go their way. this applies to new artists and mega-stars alike. and by the way, those mega tours provide work for lots of other people in the industry from road crew to vendors. nobody cares when a hobbyist points to the failures of the modern music industry so i applaud the guys with the bigger megaphones who speak up.

      • Gale

        So, if someone wants to do something with their music that they feel is artistic, they shouldn’t get paid?
        I’m not a Radiohead fan, and I often find him pretentious but in this case Thom Yorke is exactly right. They’ve embraced the digital side of things more than most bands, so I think he’s pretty qualified to comment on the fact that Google and other tech giants are making millions and millions while devaluing music (among other things.)
        What people don’t see is that it’s a reverse Robin Hood – the stealing is from the poor and given to the rich. Yes, I realize that Radiohead is successful, but it’s peanuts compared to Google and others. Besides, if a broke band you’d never heard of made a comment, would it be listed here?

    • sour

      …spoken like a bitter, broke musician.
      If the “hobbyist” musician said the perception of music having no value now was a bad thing, would you agree? Then why disagree when a successful musician says it?
      He’s saying this not cuz he wants another limo, but because he thinks music has value.

      You know who always argues that music should never involve money? Hobbyists. Because they’ve never had the conviction to do it full time. (So you play your guitar a few hours a week, so what. I hit a golf ball every so often; I’m not Tiger Woods. It’s not the same thing.)

  4. Waiting for the new content pr

    I like the word content. Only I want to subscribe to any content I pick and choose. I don’t want to own content (like the traditional brick and mortor or digital store). I want to experience content without having to own it.
    In a recent post on digital music news…. There was a prediction that rights organizations (ascap, bmi etc…) would disappear. However this will not happen until content provider companies appear and take their place.
    I want to go to a website/company pay a nominal fee of 5-10 bucks a month, then have that company track my content consumption on my digital devises, then pay out royalties to the respective content creators.
    I don’t want to download -the act of having to download something is annoying whether you do it legally or illegally. I want to stream content without facing a gatekeeper first. The price of a subscription has to be less than 10 bucks for everything I want – music, movies, books etc… Because at that price, it’s way to convienent to subscribe versus deal searching a torrent site or going to a physical store, or digital store and pay per transaction to download.
    Oh and by the way…. I understand I may have to subscribe to a small handful of content provider companies to get all I want… Sometimes I want the mainstream pop content, and sometimes I want the lesser known developing artist stuff. Just give me content without the gatekeeper and give it to me at a price that I won’t hesitate to pay.

    • REMatwork

      In fact, streaming and downloading are methods of delivery of digital content, and are NOT indications of ownership vs. rental.
      You can have a subscription (rental) service that just happens to be delivered by download. You can have ownership that just happens to be delivered by streaming.
      There are many websites, as I am sure you know, which take your downloads and organize them and let you stream them back at yourself from the cloud. They are still your “downloads”.
      And, of course, as we have seen, you can have downloads that are owned and downloads that are most definitely *not owned* because they were created without authorization.
      What we are suggesting is a private, central authority, (known in the world of exchanges as a “trusted third party”) to keep track of all that.
      The good news is that on your end, the Exchange clearinghouse function will be hardly noticeable. This isn’t a gatekeeper.
      The FURTHER good news is, you can have all the wishes that you desire in your post. But there just has to be a registry system for who owns what. If you don’t ever want to own a song (or movie, or book, or video game) that’s fine. But you have to BORROW it from somebody who does. The record of the ownership of the company you borrowed it from has to be registered on the Digital Content Exchange. And then your borrowing of it, even if for the length of a streaming play on Spotify or out of your favorite cloud storage source, will be “cleared” by the Exchange.
      You want music (and maybe movies etc.) inexpensively. I get that. The Digital Content Exchange creates the method that allows for maximum efficiency, so that, it is believed, music can be its cheapest. The Exchange method is the most efficient known, because it’s based on the same principles which make the stock market efficient: they know who owns nearly every share of stock in the world. (Today’s system for vending music is terribly inefficient … that’s why music is in the state it’s in as alluded to by Thom Yorke.)
      p.s. If you are waiting for music to become like water … where you pay the water company for “access” at ten dollars per month … that’s never going to happen. And if it were to somehow happen it would be HORRIBLE for young musicians. How hard would you bust your butt just to add an eyedropper’s worth of music to a huge reservoir of already-existing tunes? Not very hard! Your incremental increase to the value of that reservoir would be negligible.

  5. Pie Rate

    On the new content ecosystem: just what I want, a central registry for my porn.

    • Visitor

      Did you ever upload porn to magaupload, rapidshare or even Dropbox? Well, you registered your porn. The only difference is that those services didnt ask the vendors of porn whether you paid for it or not. The DCE wants those services to at least begin asking. It’s a first step that is long overdue (about 15 years overdue!).
      Login and registration of content is no big deal. You probably do it 10 times a day. The Digital Content Exchange just organizes it, gets different services sharing registry information through the clearinghouse, …. and adds one teeny tiny bit of metadata to what you uploaded: whether you own it.

      • Visitor

        Well look you just published something on the Internet when you replied to this guy. Would that be in the “copyright registry” too? If not, you have a major loophole to contend with.

        • REMatwork

          Why are you worried about comments? Has there ever been a market for Comments like there has been for CDs, DVDs, Books and Games? Where is the Best Buy or Amazon for comments?
          Methinks you want to poke supposed “major” loopholes rather than truly wrap your brain around the solution.

  6. Randy Nichols

    Who devalued music more Apple with $.99 singles or Radiohead in creating the pay what you want model?

  7. zogg

    The spoils of success I’ve beeen hearing this for the past 40 years.Radiohead should be gratefull they could still be unsigned and working at Whole Foods.
    Believe it or not this is not relavent it’s weather you have the talents and luck, yes luck to continue to reinvent yourselves.
    If it wasn’t Apple or Google it would be someone else, quit being pompus asswholes and do something about this, quit complanning it’s up to you to make the changes.

  8. jingyeow

    I appreciate Radiohead essentially creating the model that Noisetrade now uses to promote new, upcoming and new relevance artists. I’ve discovered a lot more niche artists and get to choose how to support them after being given the gift of discovering their music.
    There is no established way of making money in todays world with music.

  9. Umm...

    Downloading via Napster and other P2P devalued music. Jobs just found a way to incorporate it into iTunes/iPhones/Apple world for easy purchases for consumers and slowed the decline because the decline was inevitable.
    I stay away from the whole Thom/Trent/other artist rants on their careers, art, and so. It’s total differnt discussion for each circumstance and we’ll end up talking about it past your bedtime, kids.

  10. MalcolmG

    Ah, “Content”, the nebulous nomenclature of the brand world! And the latest way to go from company to company w/o any depth of knowledge: “Experiences”, as in “Can you give us an experience?”
    Terms designed to mask brand/agency inexperience, but Thom is right, it wears like callous greed.

    • Visitor

      I hate the word too. “Content” feels like a dead thing you just fill things up with. And “Creative” sounds obnoxious and smug. All the vocabulary describing shit in the debate is just terrible.

    • dangude

      I also agree.
      “Content Provider” is a de-humanizing term often used to denote corporations that own the copyrights.
      It allows those who are anti-copyright to remove the fact that somewhere at sometime an actual person or persons created the work.
      Sadly too many people who are pro-copyright use the term and thus reinforce the anti-copyright idea that curtailing or removing copyrights only harms big corporations and does no harm to individuals

  11. wallow-T

    “Commoditization” is probably inherent when everything can be digitized, as a digital file can always be copied, transported and stored for (very close to) free. Those properties are fundamental to why people want computers and networks.
    Mr. Yorke seems to be asking to uninvent the last 30 years or so of computer and network technology, to return us to when every recording was a special manufactured object.
    “Trying to make bits uncopyable is like trying to make water not be wet.”

    • or

      …or you could make the comparison to the cigarette industry. they sold cigarettes for years, marketing to children, lying about addictive or health qualities, etc etc.
      and then things changed. they were forced alter how they market; etc etc. they were even forced to pay for past practices.

      so saying “can’t undo the internet” is lazy. if, for example, it is illegal to advertise on illegal file sharing sites, are they going to stay around? you think those sites are in it for charity? no, they are making money from ads. if they can’t make money, they can’t pay for servers, etc etc.
      that’s the irony — the big corps (google) and illegal corps (name your illegal dload site) make money, but the freetards get all mad when a musician thinks he should be compensated.

  12. Visitor

    Napster commoditized content. Also, almost everyone in the industry refers to music as “product” … which is a lot more harmful of a framing than “content”…
    I like Thom and have frequently given him money via those “worthless” Apple and Google services.. but he doesn’t really know what he is talking about here.

    • Visitor

      I thought of the same thing. I’m sure Thom has heard his music referred to as product for years. Content is just a just a better word for digital product, I suppose.

  13. samsonite2101

    Music has been around forever, and has been at the center of arts, entertainment and culture for thousands of years. The record industry has been around for decades. It’s presumptious to think that a few decades, a relative blip in the history of music, would be the standard forever.
    Top 40 radio pre-Internet should be proof enough of commoditization of music… I’m not sure Apple is to blame here. Labels, raise your hands if you jumped on the 90’s grunge-rock or tween-pop bandwagons.

  14. Cory

    They may not favor modern buzzwords like “content” or “monetizing,” but the radio industry has been using content to sell advertising for years. It’s their entire business model. In the U.S., only publishers and not performers earn royalties from this play. In spite of agreeing to more airplay for independent artists before Congress, the radio industry is still dominated by major labels. New media companies just dress differently, but their motives and business model when it comes to music are really nothing too new (save for the way it’s delivered). I think they’re easy targets, but I’m surprised that Trent Reznor, Thom Yorke and even David Lowery haven’t spent more time critiquing the radio business model and it’s total exemption for compensating musicians.

  15. Operator

    The problem is bands seem to think their music (or content) should be the bulk of their take, but that is just not true just like it was 50 years ago. A band’s revenue is derived mostly from touring and merch. In the age of the CD bands never really got a cut of that action, today distribution is free and worldwide, music can just be free now. The price of a CD factored in making them, transport, marketing, etc, there is no need for any of that now. We have the luxury of free music, which also eliminates piracy issues, maximizes band exposure, and removes the expense of endless litigation. Bands should use digital tracks as a business card instead of a revenue model. Both artists and labels need new models to compensate.