The music world and the online world in general is abuzz with Radiohead's decision to let fans decide how much they pay for the bands new album In Rainbows before being allowed to download it via their web site.
This simple act has allowed the band to bypass the need for a record company. It's estimated, on average the band will still make about the same amount of money from downloads as they would have going the usual CD release route after the record companies have taken their cut. On average, I've read people are paying about US$8.00 for an album which you can, if you choose, download for free. It's up to you.
If you would like to read a deeper article on the repercussions then Maki from www.doshdosh.com has written a great article about Radiohead and Anti-marketing in the music industy.
What's clever about their decision is that it completely legalizes the free sharing of music. Something that is very web 2.0 where the new words for sharing on a grand scale is going viral. People love getting stuff for free. If the music is good people will share it and pay to see it performed live. By all accounts this is where the real money is for bands and musicians.
What interests me is, could this approach work for other forms of creativity or does this model only work if the sharing by optional donation approach leads to a pay per unit style revenue stream down the line?
For example, could a painter give away, by optional donation, print quality, digital scans of artworks to raise awareness and generate buzz that could lead to people wanting to own the real, original works?
My own business model of uploading free videos of me creating my art in order to raise awareness of my web site, through which I sell merchandise and original art via ebay is a similar idea.
Giving the people what they want so that they may be interested to purchase something later that they perceive as having real value, worth paying for. Which is not to say the free stuff doesn't have value but we all know, at least with digital files, it costs virtually nothing to make a copy.
I don't know. In a sense the idea of people choosing to pay what they want is like busking. It's kind of honorable but at the same time kind of sad. It's like saying I'll take whatever you can give. I don't put a value on my creativity. I'm leaving that up to you.
In theory, if I do a really good job, the next time I release something and ask for people to donate what they like, they may just pay more second time around because their first experience was much better value than they originally thought. I guess that's called creating demand.
Perhaps it's just me but the donation model doesn't sit well with my psyche. I don't mind giving something for free but taking a donation feels like accepting charity or begging.
Radiohead's business model is a good one for a modern world where everyone seems connected. It's a fantastic way to interact directly with your audience (known as your market in business terms). However it's going to take a little more time to see if it really is the future for commercial creativity.
Is there really money to be made by giving your creativity away?