Pirates of the High C’s

Once upon a time, back in 2007, British rock band Radiohead extolled the virtues of free music on the Internet on a “pay what you want” basis. While they certainly didn’t do it for the exposure, the amount of publicity the stunt generated was impressive. At the time, they believed that long-time fans and new fans would choose to pay something towards the download. They believed that in having a “pay as little or as much as you choose” would reveal that most people would willingly pony up some money in order to download Radiohead’s 2007 release, “In Rainbows.”

Fast forward 7 long years and it would appear that Radiohead and fellow recording artists are seeing what so many musicians, singer-songwriters, composers, studio musicians, et al saw coming years before “In Rainbow” was released. The old saying, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free” has made its home in the wake of free downloads and non-stop streaming options. In other words, those who are downloading free tracks aren’t putting down any money in exchange.

The idea was that in providing free tracks in exchange for whatever individuals wanted to pay would put an end to digital piracy. Guess what? It didn’t Digital piracy, like any other crime, is here to stay and as long as there are means to grab what thieves want, thieves will be grabbing.

So whether you figuratively give your wallet to the first person who passes by or your wallet is taken from by an Internet thief, the end result is the same: there’s no money at the end of the day.

Where Radiohead once chastised record labels and other musicians for refusing to bow to the masses, now Radiohead seems to feel that the inevitable result of their giveaway campaign must be blamed on Web music services and any business that helped make their music “worthless.”

This latest kick at the can is a variation on the theme, “If you play for free, think of the exposure you’ll get in my bar/restaurant/venue and maybe you’ll even be able to sell some CDs.”

It hasn’t been a good business model in the past, and it’s not a good business model now.

If it was, lawyers and plumbers and everyone in between would be offering their products and services with a “pay what you want” price tag attached. But you don’t see any lawyers or plumbers offering their services with a “pay what you want” invoice handed to the customer once the job is completed.

If it was, you could fill your car up at the pumps and tell the person behind the counter that you just didn’t feel like paying $4 or $5 a gallon, but that the next time you needed to fill your car up again, you’d be back and probably pay about $1 a gallon for that future fill up.

People, if you don’t value what you do, don’t be surprised when no one else values what you do. Being a willing doormat has never resulted in anything more than feeling used by people who could not care less about what matters to anyone other than themselves.

Too bad it took Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails (and all the others who fell for this business model) t0 publicly admit that they were terribly misguided back in the day when they sincerely believed that fans would pay anything in exchange for free music downloads.


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