Radiohead’s sudden move to offer their new album online, for any price you want to pay, hits at the crux of how content is valued in the modern age.
As “old media” companies evolve, startups push the envelope of how to serve communities and audiences, and lawyers get involved in content sharing online, Radiohead has done the impossible: they have turned a tactical business problem into a question of ethics. At the same time, they have shifted the power structure in highly evolved industries.
Bypassing a major label, they are allowing anyone, anywhere, to simply pay what they want. Suddenly, the question of value is thrust upon those who previously could be armchair critics.
If you count yourself a devoted Radiohead fan, how can you justify giving them 20 cents for their efforts? What happens when you don’t have to factor in the “corporations are evil” ethos that many fans have torwards record labels? And stealing this digital content becomes irrelevant on file sharing networks, as anyone can get high quality content quickly and cheaply.
Other major artists are pursing the same route:
“Trent Reznor announced today that “as of right now Nine Inch Nails is a totally free agent, free of any recording contract with any label.” Instead of futzing through the hapless middleman of an inept label, Trent’s promising “a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate…”
As more and more creators of high quality content go directly to their audience, what happens to businesses who trade in this content? How is this so different from other forms of media, including journalism and business information?
Or, we can take a look at the deal Madonna is working on: $120 million three album and touring deal with a some major companies. But, of course, Madonna herself seems to be a major company. But even this deal is a major blow to the major players in the music industry:
“Whilst the deal differs from Nine Inch Nails in that Madonna is not offering direct-to-public albums, Live Nation isn’t a record company. The deal shows that even for a world famous act, a record company is no longer required in the days of digital downloads and P2P music sharing.”