Radiohead rocked the music world a couple of weeks ago by announcing that it would allow fans to name their own price for the band's new album. In Rainbows was made available through the band's website in DRM-free MP3 format, and downloaders were asked to pay what they thought it was worth. A traditional box set containing vinyl and CD copies of the album in addition to the digital download was also offered at a set cost of £40.00.
A week has passed since In Rainbows' release, and despite the initial excitement and favorable reviews, the launch hasn't gone as well as one might expect. There have been numerous complaints that the MP3s made available for download were only encoded at 160kbps—a far cry from CD quality and a lower bit-rate than digital downloads available from iTunes and other online music vendors.
More interesting considering Radiohead's novel name-your-price approach is the fact that the album is being widely pirated online. Peer-to-peer downloads haven't yet eclipsed the album's 1.2 million legitimate sales, but Eric Garland, CEO of P2P monitoring firm Big Champagne, thinks it's only a matter of time before they do. "It's quite simply easier for folks to get the illegal version than the legal version," he says.
One can only hope that In Rainbows piracy doesn't discourage other artists from pursuing novel approaches to content distribution. However, if allowing consumers to name their own price for a digital download doesn't curb illegal file sharing, it seems unlikely that anything will.