The great riddle facing the record industry in the digital age has been pricing. Napster and its ilk puckishly offered music for “free” in the late 1990s, and the major labels have largely clung to an average of $13 for CDs despite plummeting sales and seasons of downsizing.
Now, one of the world’s most acclaimed rock bands, Radiohead, is answering that marketplace riddle with a shrug. “It’s up to you,” reads a message on the Web page where fans can pre-order the band’s highly anticipated seventh album and pay whatever they choose, including nothing.
The British band, which has twice been nominated for a best album Grammy, will sidestep the conventional industry machinery altogether Oct. 10 by releasing the album “In Rainbow” as a digital download with no set price. The album will be available only from the band and at radiohead.com, its official site.
It may sound like a gimmicky promotion, but industry observers Monday framed it in more historical terms: Radiohead, they said, is the right band at the right time to blaze a trail of its own choosing.