Radiohead In Rainbows Pulls up to $10 Million

By Richard Menta 10/20/07

Eliot Van Buskirk over at Wired, one of the few writers who have been in the digital music space as long as I have, spoke with a representative of Radiohead's Thom Yorke to see if he could find out how much the band drew from its name-your-own-price download experiment for In Rainbows. The rep told Eliot that the band was keeping those numbes to itself, so we may never know the true figure, at least in the short term.

Van Buskirk then pointed to The Seminal who claim to have insider information that the band reaped about $10 million in the album's first week of sales, based on 1.2 million albums sold at an average price of $8.00 per. He also pointed to another estimate that he felt quoted a more reliable $5 average price for the album for a total of $6 million.

Either way, the band earned far more money than artists with a major label deal have pulled in. So far this year Linkin Park holds the highest opening week among the majors with 623,000 records sold. High School Musical 2 came in second place with 615,000 units. That's about half of the units Radiohead delivered. Since the average major label deal deals the recording artists an average of about $0.50 per CD sold (minus some...er...business and handling charges like breakage for files sold on iTunes) it is easy to see how Radiohead has done much, much better. Afterall, the band has cut out two big middle men; the local retailer and the label itself.

The big question now is what will happen as other artists copy the radiohead experiment. For those artists with superstar status like Madonna, who has an album coming out soon, the results quite possibly will be the same or reasonably close. I just wonder how well it will work for those a step below superstar status? That's the question that has the major labels worried for those who have successful artists nearing the end of their contract.

Here in another question? Will In Rainbows be recognized as the top selling album of the year? Since Radiohead refuses to share the actual numbers it's doubtful. Of course, the real winner should neither Radiohead or Linkin Park, but Prince who moved 3 million CD in a single day through a promotion this summer with the London Mail, a strategy that most likely earned him more than $0.50 an album.


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