Radiohead: Did Pre-orders Hit 3 Million Mark?

By Richard Menta 10/10/07

Radiohead delivers its new album In Rainbows today. The question captivating the record industry right now is how many albums did Radiohead sell in pre-orders alone? Will Radiohead top this year's record chart? If Radiohead does sell a ton of its latest work will the record industry even acknowledge it in the charts?

The number one selling album so far this year is Prince's Planet Earth CD, which moved 3 million copies in one day in a free newpaper promotion with the London Mail. I say sold, because even though fans didn't have to pay for the giveaway Prince sold those CDs to the Mail. Billboard chose to ignore the Prince coup when figuring its weekly Top Album Sales. As far as the industry rag is concerned Linkin Park with 623,000 albums sold in its first week and High School Musical 2 with 615,000 sold its first week are the year's top sellers so far. I find that curious, because since Prince cut out the middleman he made a lot more money than the artists on those other efforts will ever see. Under what criteria does Planet Earth not count?

Anyway, the question on my mind is at what point will Radiohead's In Rainbows be considered a success? In a year where albums are topping the weekly Billboard charts with under 75,000 units sold I have to think anything above that mark means the band did as well as many popular label acts did through traditional major label activities. Having established its own distribution mechanism, Radiohead keeps all of the money generated minus costs, so the 75,000 unit mark, while it may seem modest, would pull in some respectable coin for them. That's only the opening week of course. The other question is will this new form of digital commerce have a long or short tail?

My gut feeling feels that Radiohead captured far more paying customers than that, tapping into an audience that is quickly replacing physical media like the CD with digital purchases. The groundbreaking idea to let the consumer name their price in itself garnered Radiohead a monsterous amount of free press. There is good chance Radiohead's In Rainbows beat Planet Earth in opening sales. If that turns out to be true then In Rainbows will turn out to be a very lucrative venture for the band , even if the average purchase price is only $1.

So did Radiohead surpass the 3 million unit mark set by Prince? If they did their experiment with In Rainbows achieved far more than nabbing the top selling album of the year. Since only three albums sold over 3 million units all of last year In Rainbows may be the cornerstone of change in an industry that may soon see the biggest recording artists eschew the renewal of their label contract. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is already convinced that is they way to go.

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