What Authors Can Learn From Radiohead

In Rainbows by Radiohead

If you haven’t already heard, Radiohead recently did what some considered absolutely crazy: they released a new album with absolutely no fixed price. Let’s clarify that for a moment: you go to their website, click through a few well designed screens, and they give you two options: one is a box set which costs a whopping £40.00, and the other is a download. Add that to your basket, checkout, and they throw you with a screen that allows you to enter the amount you’re willing to pay.
Radiohead box set
What’s remarkable about this isn’t just the pricing scheme: Radiohead has bypassed the music industry in order to get to the end consumer – they’re not releasing this through a major record company (thought they might in 2008). And if that isn’t mindblowing to you consider this: publicity for Radiohead spiked after one post in Pitchfork. Blogs started linking and talking about this is the hundreds, far surpassing anything a record company can do, throgh record stores – digital or otherwise. Radiohead’s website crashed after the first few hours.radiohead buzz graph

There are a few things us Internet fiction writers can draw from this – the parellels between the music and the book industry are obvious, though they do face different challenges. But what Radiohead has done was only possible with the advent of the net and the blogosphere – the first for distribution, and the second for getting the word out.


Between this situation and the book industry? You’ve got to be kidding me, right?

Not so. While it’s true that we don’t have as many people complaining about the monopoly publishers have on the consumption of prose (the way audiophiles complain about how radio killed music and how record labels are going the way of the dinosaur), there are issues with which we can all identify with. How hard it is to get published today, for instance; and then there’s the Jane Austen rejection fiasco; and recently I stumbled upon an article about how fiction just isn’t what it used to be.

Have we woken up to the fact that publishers aren’t the only way to reach a target audience? Yes, we blookers have. But while the music industry is seeing huge changes to the way people receive and buy and listen to music, much of the publishing industry has stayed the same. Plus, they have a target audience that knows getting access to good music isn’t through just the record labels.

We sit in the sidelines and watch a revolution happen in a neighbouring house. What a party, what a life! Was that a piano crashing out of the 2nd storey window?

Lesson from Radiohead: we can now bypass the big distributors. But – and this is the important question – will anybody listen?

PS: I particularly like the layout at the Radiohead site: it focuses attention to the text, and tells a story in multiple pages. Plus there are little distractions: you want to see what the next screen will say, partly due to the lack of links (or sidebars). That’s a format worth experimenting with.

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Category: Publishing · Writing Web Fiction