Who the Hell Bought ‘In Rainbows’ on CD, Anyway?

Photo: Courtesy of inrainbows.com

Following yesterday's news about Radiohead's In Rainbows topping the album charts, the New York Times marvels this morning at the fact that 122,000 fans paid full price for the record, even though it had been freely available on the band's Website for the three previous months. To what can this seemingly inexplicable success be attributed? The Times' Jeff Leeds asks a record-store owner who speculates it was that consumers wanted "a physical, archival high-fidelity master recording," instead of the medium-quality MP3s that the band distributed in October, even though retail versions of In Rainbows ripped in full lossless audio have been circulating on file-sharing networks for over a month. Also shooting holes in this argument is the that, astonishingly, 28,000 people bought the album on iTunes, which sells files of an even lower bit rate than the ones originally offered by the band. EDIT: Turns out we were wrong! When did iTunes start selling listenable MP3s? (See comments.)

So, who really did pay retail price In Rainbows last week? TVT Records president Steve Gottlieb points to whom we suspected all along: old people who've never heard of BitTorrent. "Radiohead is one of those really big groups that appeals to people outside the intensely pirating demographic of 16 to 29," he tells the Times. "To the extent Radiohead still has a significant audience in its 30s and 40s, there's a bigger audience of those people who will still pick up something at Best Buy or don't want to bother with figuring out how to go to a Radiohead Website and track it down." (We bet most of the ones who bought it on iTunes were parents whose children had just given them their very first iPods for Christmas.)

Following yesterday's news about Radiohead's In Rainbows topping the album charts, the New York Times marvels this morning at the fact that 122,000 fans paid full price for the record, even though it had been freely available on the band's Website for the three previous months. To what can this seemingly inexplicable success be attributed? The Times' Jeff Leeds asks a record-store owner who speculates it was that consumers wanted "a physical, archival high-fidelity master recording," instead of the medium-quality MP3s that the band distributed in October, even though retail versions of In Rainbows ripped in full lossless audio have been circulating on file-sharing networks for over a month. Also shooting holes in this argument is the that, astonishingly, 28,000 people bought the album on iTunes, which sells files of an even lower bit rate than the ones originally offered by the band. EDIT: Turns out we were wrong! When did iTunes start selling listenable MP3s? (See comments.)

Us, we don't typically fall into that category, but we will admit to falling victim to Radiohead's smart, pay-what-you-want marketing push for Rainbows. Vulture's more easily swindled editor paid $5 at first, then went back and bought the $82 box set later. After three months, it finally arrived in the mail last week, meaning it was definitely shipped from the U.K. for the cheapest possible amount. No wonder Thom Yorke is rich!

Radiohead Finds Sales, Even After Downloads [NYT]
Earlier: ‘In Rainbows’ Tops Charts; Radiohead Now Slightly Richer