Tuesday, October 02, 2007

self-determined music pricing

Yesterday it was all over the blogosphere and on NPR that Radiohead is taking control of its own distribution and releasing its new album with self-determined pricing. This was heralded as huge, earth-shattering, and a "watershed moment" according to CNET.

It's as if no one has done this before. But of course, at least one person has, and very successfully.

In the early 1980s I discovered Canadian singer Jane Siberry, who now goes by the name Issa. I own her albums. I've seen her perform twice so far (a third is in the offing -- she's coming to Charlottesville this month).

And, in 2005, she transformed her personal label's inventory from physical to digital, put it online, and allowed self-determined pricing. Some of her earlier material is not available due to licensing restrictions -- she's not encouraging illegal downloading -- but she has successfully licensed some albums and songs she did for Warner and made them available through this route. Her wikipedia article quotes an interview in The Globe and Mail where she says that since she had instituted the self-determined pricing policy, the average income she receives per song is in fact slightly more than standard price. The "Press" section of her Jane Siberry site has an interesting Chicago Tribune article from that year.

But, since almost no one has heard of Jane Siberry and everyone has heard of Radiohead, it's as if no one has ever done this before. There was a Thingology post that commented that Radiohead probably borrowed the idea from someone or thought of it on their own. Here's an example of someone who did it first. I'm not knocking Radiohead. I like their music. I'm thrilled that such a high profile group is doing this. But this is not their watershed moment alone.

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