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Radiohead Sells Album on the Web, at Any Price

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Radiohead Sells Album on the Web, at Any Price

Radiohead Sells Album on the Web, at Any Price

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(Soundbite of song, "Karma Police")

Mr. THOM YORKE (Lead Singer, Radiohead): (Singing) Karma police, arrest this man…


We're listening to a classic hit from Radiohead. And if you wish the song would just go on, don't worry because we're about to hear some of the new stuff.

The rock band shook up the music industry when it announced that its new album would not be released as a CD or as a download through iTunes.

Instead, the band said it would offer the record called "In Rainbows," only through its own Web site for whatever price each customer decides to pay - even for free.

NPR's Jacob Ganz downloaded the album early this morning.

JACOB GANZ: It's 3:30 in the morning on Wednesday, October 10th. I'm not usually at work this early.

Yesterday, Radiohead sent out messages to everyone in the world who had pre-ordered "In Rainbows" saying that the download would be available sometime in the morning, U.K. time. That's all information we got, so you've got to figure that there are many, many people poised over their computers right now, waiting for this thing to drop.

Anticipation for this record has been extremely high and a week is a very long time in the world of the Internet. There are any number of things that could go wrong with an experiment like this. But I'm betting that this will work. These are smart guys who have been interacting with fans over the Internet from more than a decade. They probably got a huge server farm humming somewhere, ready to take care of all of these orders, these downloads.

But still, there's no telling how many people will jam those servers. In the U.S. alone, each of the last three Radiohead records sold over 200,000 copies in the first week based solely on the publicity that the band is working with here. You've got to fear at least that many people are going to be getting this thing today.

And for me, that's the interesting part of this. The band has really created an event here. Remember, nobody has actually heard the music yet, but lots of people are actually paying for it. For the record, I gave the band five pounds for my download - seemed reasonable.

Okay, it's here. There's an e-mail in my inbox. It says: Thank you for ordering "In Rainbows." The link below is your unique download activation code.

I'll click that link and we're off. One thing to note while I'm waiting for this download to hit 100 percent, Radiohead is sort of setting its own terms for success here.

Sales are not going to be tracked in the U.K. and the band will only show up on U.S. charts if it decides it wants to report how many people bought the record from them. You have to wonder how honest people are going to be. The files are free of digital rights management, which means you can copy them as many times as you want. You can make CDs. You can send them to your friends.

You have to figure that they will be all over the Internet as soon as they're available, which is it's done.

(Soundbite of song, "In Rainbows")

GANZ: Radiohead is really in a very special position here. They've got a lot of fans who addressed them to put up something worth listening to. Whether those fans pay for it or not, the band is free of a record contract. And after 10 years of success in the music industry, they can certainly afford this kind of experiment. Of course, it's not without precedent.

Prince gave away his last CD for free in a British newspaper and plenty of smaller bands gave away music for free on the Internet. Most bands, even if they were in a position to go it alone, probably couldn't pull off something like this.

But then again, most bands aren't Radiohead.

Jacob Ganz, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "In Rainbows")

INSKEEP: You're hearing them on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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