(Radio)heading off at a tangent

Last week I talked at some length about the perils of this job and how easy it is to waste lots of time reading about interesting but non-relevant topics when researching the current week’s column on the web.

One of my usual stops when wanting to find out what’s new in the online world is the blogs section of the UK’s Telegraph newspaper. I went to www.telegraph.co.uk as usual, clicked on the blogs link, and started scrolling down the list to find the technology-related ones.

The first headline to strike my eye was “The man who saved the world” and, of course, I clicked on the link to find out more. It turns out there is a Russian pensioner called Stanislav Petrov who deserves the heartfelt gratitude of every single person on the planet.

He was on duty one night in 1983 in the Soviet nuclear bunker when his screens suddenly showed what looked like a massive incoming American missile attack. He could easily have pressed the panic button and precipitated nuclear war, but he wrote off the blips on his screen as a malfunction; and prayed like hell, I would guess.

With that distraction out of the way, however, I found a very interesting article on a development that could turn the music industry on its head. I have always resented the high price of recorded music, even in the days when we could pop along to Record King or the music bar at Game, and buy the latest vinyl disks for R4.99.

I thought that the resentment was just a consumer thing but it seems that singers and musicians are also miffed about the large difference between what they are paid and the prices the consumer is charged.

Record companies had the clout because there was no way that a singer or group could handle the marketing and distribution of their music. Not, that is, before the rise of the Internet made it possible for musicians to sell their music directly to their fans and potentially eliminate the record companies.

A fair of bit of this sort of thing is already going on but now the major group Radiohead is about to market its next album In Rainbows over the Internet. It can be pre-ordered as a boxed set with two CDs and two vinyl records, or as a download.

I freely admit that I wouldn’t know Radiohead if I bumped into it performing in the street, but I must say that I do like it’s novel ideas on pricing. The boxed set will set you back £40 and only enough of those will be made to fill orders received.

Things get more interesting when it gets to the digital download version because the band is prepared to accept whatever its customers feel like paying them for the music. The order form was a bit wonky at the time I wrote this, but I did see with my own eyes, the blank spaces where you can fill in the amount you want to pay.

I think it’s a very smart marketing move and I’m pretty sure that the group will end up doing well because most people will respond by paying a realistic figure for the music and few will bother to pirate it.

I imagine that the move is likely to inspire other musicians to go down that route unless the industry radically alters its pricing structure. The film industry will hopefully also catch the hint and bring down DVD prices, or is that too much to expect.

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