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Where to next for record labels?

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 19 Oct 07, 11:00 AM

Radiohead have made their latest album, In Rainbows, available for download, and fans are invited to pay what they like for it. Days later, Nine Inch Nails announced they were leaving their record company, and Madonna has dumped her label in favour of a concert promoter.

Has this left record label fat cats crying into their skinny lattes? Whilst selling CDs is still a multi-billion dollar industry, volumes are continuing to fall and downloads aren’t taking up all the slack. Something is happening and the industry needs to react. But in what direction will that be?

If the Radiohead experiment is to be the new model for the industry, then acts will need to sharpen up the way they deliver content to fans. On the Access-UK list, Vanjar gives a full description of the difficulties encountered in trying to download the album after encountering confusing links, a difficult order form and the almost inevitable visual verification image that screen reader software cannot pick up. All of which lead to Vanjar giving the website a, “thumbs down when it comes to accessibility of their online store.”

You know, it still surprises me that people are desperate to spend their money, but that some web developers manage to make it impossible to do so.

A website that has been encouraging users to pay what they like for new music is Magnatune. Magnatune is part record label, part music download website. They sign artists and make their albums available to listen to or download. Consumers get to pay what they want for an album. The recommended price is US $8, but you can pay as little as $5 or as much as $18. The money is split with the band on 50-50 basis.

Magnatune isn’t going to pass a formal accessibility audit, but it is usable. You can navigate around it, and purchasing music involves completing a fairly simple order form. And get this – it even lets you listen to music on your preferred media player, if the Flash player doesn’t work.

It is a model that can work for everyone. Artists prosper by receiving more royalties than with a traditional record label. Consumers get to pay what an album is worth to them.

Could it be that this is how we’ll be buying all our music in the future?

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 07:31 PM on 04 Jan 2008,
  • miika wrote:

Considering the RIAA is now trying to remove even blatant "fair use" rights from consumers, I doubt very much if Radiohead's experiment will have any positive effect for the industry.

As long as the cartels try to stubbornly retain their old models of business, and actively attack the new technology rather than figure out how to adapt to embrace it, there's going to be few Radiohead-style incidents involving "big" artists yet.

*MY* big problem is that the cartels still refuse to adopt technology that aids accessibility to any large degree. Even when/if the copyright/download/ownership/fair use arguments are just bad memories, the technology being used won't have been considered from an accessibility perspective.

My fear is that accessible material will cost premium in the future, as the cartels try to wring every penny out they can once more.

As long as the cartels try to stubbornly retain their old models of business, and actively attack the new technology rather than figure out how to adapt to embrace it, there's going to be few Radiohead-style incidents involving "big" artists yet.

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