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Radiohead Plays 'New Tune' With Fans Setting CD Price

Monday, 1 Oct 2007 | 4:22 PM ET
Radiohead
Radiohead

Pricing Rules? Radiohead, the British band, is ignoring them entirely. Now that the band has fulfilled its relationship with EMI music label and is on its own, it's letting its fans decide how much to pay for its new 10-song album. The new album called "In Rainbows" will initially be only available on the band's Web site. And fans name the price. The site acknowledges the weirdness--"no really, it's up to you"--the site says.

This is the ultimate test of the theory that fans will pay for music. And they'll choose to pay a reasonable amount. But will Radiohead just end up giving away its music for free? The rest of the music industry is certainly watching.

The band is also selling its music with an opposite approach--on its web site also offering a fancy, pricey, physical version of the album--42 pounds, about $80 dollars, for two vinyl records and two CDs with 18 songs on each, plus art and all those liner notes you used to get with old fashioned records and CDs. By this theory, the real Radiohead connoisseur will pay up for all the loot, and the rest of the fans will pay whatever they think the value is of the songs. If it works, people will like having control and will pay more--or something.

So why not just sell songs through iTunes. Well, Radiohead doesn't want to sell individual songs --they don't want listeners to have that kind of choice--they want to only sell albums. And now that Radiohead is no longer encumbered by their contract with EMI Group, the label that released their albums through 2003, the band can do whatever it wants. Now, let's see if it works.

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.