As you might've heard, established British purveyors of modern alternative smooth music Radiohead elected to make their latest effort, In Rainbows, available for download from their website for a sum to be determined by each consumer. As the BBC now tells us, however, 62% of downloaders are deciding they'll give no cash back for the opportunity to grab these ten songs:
Fans were invited to put their own price on the 10 mp3 files that made up In Rainbows, from nothing to £100. But internet monitoring company Comscore found that only 38% of downloaders willingly paid to do so. The average price paid for the album was $6 (£2.90), the study found. American fans were the most generous, paying on average $8.05 (£3.85), compared to the $4.64 (£2.22) paid by those outside the US. [Of course, some might suggest the American geniuses are confused by the whole "pounds sterling" thing and intended to pay less.] Of those who were willing to pay, the largest percentage (17%) paid less than $4 (£1.90). However 12% were willing to pay between $8-$12, (£3.80 - £5.71).Shocking, of course.
To their credit, the band hasn't pulled the plug on this unique method of releasing a record even as this news arrives. I mean, they sort of had to figure there'd be a lot of freeloaders, right? The cynical side of me marvels that 38% of people are actually forking over money for what could be a free album. But then again, I paid for the album . . . and I'm still irritated at myself and the record industry for the ill-afforded thousands of dollars I handed it in the 1990's. But pay for the mp3's I did, and so did one in three.
What is it that wills people to give semi-anonymously to a band that doesn't need the revenue?
Is it a deep-rooted sense of doing the right thing?
A Pavlovian effect wherein you know you just never get something for nothing and therefore open up the wallet involuntarily?
Or is it more paranoid, a peering-over-your-shoulder sense that some authority is judging you by your donation -- either the Lord in heaven, or the band itself looking at your credit card receipt?
Is it a combination of guilt, duty, and vanity, so you fill the box with numbers that correspond to your perceived socio-economic strata?
Not really sure.
For me, some of these may have played a factor, but the Visa charge was basically my tiny gesture of applause for one band's circumvention of convention in a manner that rewards the only people that matter -- the fans -- while cutting out the necessary, often evil middleman -- the record company. We could get into a larger discussion of Radiohead as Robin Hood, the tilted economics of the music industry, and pros and cons of the major label, and Warner Music & Ticketmaster as the Scylla and Charybdis of rock and roll (forgive me, I also saw The Police the other night) . . . but nobody comes to Gheorghe: The Blog for such heavy-handed analyses and debates.
(They come, I assume, for TJ's YouTube clips and O.J. jokes, my made-up nicknames and self-righteous blathering, and Rob's superlative insight from his vantage point below sea level. But I digress.)
In this case, let's just say that one group has issued a novel, even enlightened take on getting their music to the masses in a way that doesn't squeeze the listeners for every cent, not to mention a way that helps the environment. They aren't the first band to try to tackle an industry behemoth (Pearl Jam battled Goliath Ticketmaster in vain a decade ago); they aren't even the first to give away their tunes in a method that's equal parts of-the-people democracy and very savvy marketing. Just like those artists who scoffed at Metallica for their short-sightedness and embraced the Internet age as a way of delivering their sound to countless new listeners, Radiohead now draws headlines, raises eyebrows, makes a few new fans, and returns plenty of revenues in a way that just another CD on the shelves of Sam Goody for $18.99 never, ever could. It's shrewd, make no mistake, but it's also a pretty cool way to go about the business side of the art form.
But is it Gheorghe-y?
The Radiohead approach isn't entirely altruistic; it's gimmicky, pseudo-anarchic, and ultimately deceptively capitalistic (which is why it just might work). It's innovative, though, and it certainly takes steps towards easing the public's investment risk in rock and roll. A check mark for cleverness, a check mark for freezing out the stereotypical record company "fat cats," and oh yeah, one more for delivering an album whose merit goes above and beyond the style-over-substance, overhyped dud that it could have been. It's slower than I usually enjoy, but there are more actual "songs" than musical meanderings this time around, and it's worth the £4 I plunked down.
As for this phenomenon's level of Gheorghitude, it lacks the requisite silliness of G:TB-endorsed efforts, which is fairly unsurprising for Radiohead (and most Britpop, excepting perhaps the occasional Blur or Pulp). You know, silliness like this.
If Ween or They Might Be Giants end up following suit, it's unparalleled Gheorgheness for the music world. We can only hope.
What about against-the-grain economic system shakers in sports?
Right now in baseball all the chatter is whether Alex Rodriguez will "earn" 300 or 350 million dollars over the next stretch of years. As difficult as it is to justify a baseball player making $30+M a year -- and dear lord, that's difficult -- a Smithian, purely capitalistic approach can make a case for it. Those who think that ARod won't grab every cent he can because he has some sort of conscience about wrecking the Rangers or because he needs an extra fifty mill like I need that 26th cold one at 4 AM are deluding themselves in almost cartoonish fashion. Alas, those sinister villains Boras and Natasha (ARod makes a nice Natasha, no?) are two steps ahead of simple Bullwinkle (me) and little Rocky (Rob). (TJ, I guess you're Peabody the encyclopedic dog.)
Of course he's going for it all. He won't quit until he's reached the GNP of half the UN. What's to stop him? The expected public backlash from Windfall #1 didn't slow him one iota. His peers are just as determined to maximize their bankrolls, so why should he be the guy to make a sacrifice? And just who would be benefiting, the old boys club of Caucasian Codgers we call owners?? Guys like Big Stein and Nap Angelos? Please. Even if ARod wanted to settle for less, he has two very big thugs shoving him into the biggest payload possible: Scott Boras and the Players' Union, two entities of great influence, highly exaggerated self-worth and deeply misguided principles.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
We're talking about a business where even an otherwise respectable participant like Ivan Rodriguez notifies his previous ownership at the start of free agency that "there will be no hometown discount," gets stymied by the rest of the league, then bemoans the disrespect his club showed him considering the sentimentality of the prior year's success. Hypocrisy, shadiness, and outright lying, all in the name of making the most money. It's the aspect of sport where our "heroes" are revealed to be abundantly human, and the only solace we fans can take comes courtesy of our friend Jimmy Giovanelli, who reminds us that the country gets a little boost every time some young, dumb jock is given millions of dollars to inject rapidly and ruthlessly back into the economy.
An act of personal sacrifice, though?
Not. Gonna. Happen.
But what if it did? What if it could? What if Alex Rodriguez's balls finally dropped (presumably from him yelling "Aaaah!!!" as he ran by them) and he decided that this was about much more than his own greedy satisfaction? What if it no longer mattered to him whether he'd be able to afford yet another friggin' Pomeranian, or yet another condo in South Beach or Chelsea or Key West or San Fran or Provincetown or Fire Island? What if he decided to make an entirely new legend for himself, casting aside all preconceived notions of what we know Alex Rodriguez to be and establishing himself as the man of the people for all times?
How would he go about it? Professional athletes, unlike professional musicians, don't make their livelihood on creative brilliance. Plus, with an industry like Major League Baseball, there's no bucking the system and having fans pay him through the website. But what if ARod, or any other megastar, decided that he could get by (eke out a living on Ramen noodles and mac & cheese) on $10 million a year? He could sign on with just about any team in the league at that point, perhaps setting his sights on some sad sack but good karma small-market team who needs a boost to get over the hump. Fight the Union, fire his agent. Make a mint in endorsements as the baseball's returning hero. Be beloved by every yahoo who clamors for the salary cap. (That's me, standing right behind Bob Costas.)
Meanwhile, he could make the case that the savings he provided the owner needs to be recouped a bit with our help -- we who would get to the ballpark more for less with ticket sales not skyrocketing to pay his salary. We would be able to make donations at the park and online to The [Insert Player Name Here] Foundation, a charity focusing on some needy group of folks in the team's metro area. For every dollar the fans contribute, the owner matches it (perhaps in a tax-deductible fashion). Some set-up like that where the player still gets great money, the team has a better chance to win, the fans are happy, and the charity gets a bonus.
Yep, there are probably a dozen flaws, but I'm thinking off the top of my head. With some time, the right people thinking for him, and a fiscal strategy that makes some sense, it could be done. I'm sure Radiohead's plan began as a cockamamie scheme in somebody's head, but they made it happen. And right up until ARod signs with some foolhardy team (dear God, please not the Mets) for 500 bazillion pounds sterling, I'll keep wondering if practicality or prudence will make an appearance in the Hot Stove sessions. And listening to these mp3's.