Pot of Gold at the End of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”?

Radiohead In Rainbows Website

While the record industry continues to eat its own young by claiming in court that even the act of ripping a copy of a CD you already own is piracy, the mega-group Radiohead has cut the umbilical cord and is going it alone. No label; no music distributor; and even more brazen— no fixed cost per album.

Radiohead In Rainbows Pay What You Will

You can pre-order Radiohead’s new album, in rainbows, for as much or as little as you want to pay for it. Think about that for a second. They are offering it to a legion of fans for free. Or you can choose to place whatever value on it you wish. No Warner, or EMI, or Universal, or Capitol Records. Not even iTunes is invited to a slice of the pie. Just you, the consumer, the fan, faced with a rare honest choice: take it or pay for it. No really. It’s up to you.

Radiohead In Rainbows It’s Up To You Really

It will be available for download on October 10th, 2007. Or you can go all out and purchase the much cooler £40.00 ($80) ‘discbox’, which consists of enhanced CDs, extra tracks, vinyl, artwork and booklets. This will be shipped by December 3rd, but you will also get an invitation to download the digital formats in October. Word on the street is that discbox sales are out pacing the ‘pay what you will’ downloads.

Radiohead In Rainbows discbox

TIME writes that this may be another ‘death knell’ to the recording industry but RollingStone says Radiohead is still looking for a label to distribute a traditional CD version in 2008. (Remember, not everyone has a computer, an iPod, and a credit card.) Michael Arrington of TechCrunch weighs in to say that since the production costs of music distribution are next to zero, the rules of economics will push the price close to zero as well. There is a lively debate raging in his comments section on this topic.

Have albums become loss leaders? Is the real money in live concerts and merchandise? Prince thinks so. He gave away free copies of his new album Planet Earth in the July 15th edition of UK paper The Mail on Sunday. Columbia Records was so pissed off that they refused to distribute his album in England (the local HMVs had to stock the newspaper to appease customers). But when Prince subsequently announced 21 concert dates, they sold out immediately.

Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor has been giving away his latest album Year Zero in bits and pieces, even offering re-mixable multi-tracks for fans to create their own versions. NIN planted USB keys at their own concerts with high-res versions of videos and music that hadn’t been released yet, prompting DJs to ‘unofficially’ play new singles. Reznor has called his own record label “Greedy fucking assholes” and recently told fans in Australia to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing.”

Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s lead singer, is slightly more diplomatic:

I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘Fuck you’ to this decaying business model. (TIME)

Radiohead In Rainbows New Record

As historic a moment as it is, Radiohead’s new venture has not yet proven itself a success. Will fans pay for the album? How much (I paid £5.00)? Will the digital download be a wide enough distribution? Will their servers be able to handle the traffic? Will fans flock to the inevitable concert tour? Will Radiohead continue to turn a profit on their talent? The answer is most likely yes, but it will be interesting to watch this new experiment unfold.

SIDENOTE: Since there is no album art for In Rainbows as of yet (October 10, 2007) I have created a Flickr group and a Facebook group for uploading, sharing, and eventually voting on user-generated covers.


Will It Blend? Will It Sell?

Will It Blend iPhoneA few years ago I presented a forward thinking proposal to a very large company. In this proposal we explained how, if the company created compelling enough content, our ‘advertising’ could actually generate revenue, or at least help pay for itself. We were scoffed out of the room, and told that our thinking was incredibly naive.

I’ll never forget that presentation. It was terrifying and demoralizing to realized that one of the biggest companies in the world was SO far behind in their thinking that they risked never catching up to their future customers. They faced extinction by their own hand.

I was reminded of this presentation when I read in the WSJ that Blendtec has so far made (yes, MADE) $18,000 US on their home-grown marketing campaign, Will It Blend. They started with 50 bucks. How’s that for turning traditional marketing on its head? And did I mention they don’t have an ad agency?

The iPhone Will It Blend video has had well over 1 million views in its first 2 days!

Tom Dickson is my HomeboyCompanies (like Novell) are paying upwards of $5,000 for product placement or short infomercials in the Blendtec videos. Sometimes Tom Dickson (Chief Blender and CEO) sells the blended objects on ebay. At the time of this writing, the blended iPhone is going for $660 (more than the iPhone unblended!), but that also includes a blender, a DVD of their first 50 videos and an autographed “Tom Dickson is my Homeboy” T-Shirt (which are also for sale on their site).

Blendtec is about viral video revenue sharing, DVDs, T-Shirts, ebay, product placement, interviews on variety shows… and, oh yeah, blenders. The question that most marketing people ask is “Will it sell?” According to George Wright, the Marketing Director/Genius behind the Will It Blend idea, sales were up 43% in 2006 alone. He explains the phenomenon to the WSJ:

Start with your target customers. You want to have something that’s fun for the people who buy your products. You just need to find the communities you want to focus on and find something that will be appealing to the people in that community, and you will have success.

When things like Will It Blend come along, and kick everyone in the ass, including ad agencies, I can’t help but smile. I’ve been using Blendtec as an example of alternative marketing for almost a year, explaining in lectures how they created a viral video juggernaut by following a few simple steps echoed by Josh Bernoff’s article for Forrester:

  1. It’s funny. It’s visually arresting. It’s short. These are three qualities your videos must possess. Here’s another company that also succeeded with a visually arresting video: Ray-Ban.
  2. It’s authentic. These guys are geeks. Wright told me the CEO — Tom Dickson, who’s featured in the video — is an engineer. It comes across. This stuff ain’t slick, folks, and if it were it wouldn’t work. (I love the proud and cheesy smile while he watches his company’s blender reduce some object to dust.)
  3. It’s original. Figure out what your unique value is. Then film it and put it up there. Don’t copy Blendtec, or Ray-Ban, or Dove. This may be the hardest part.
  4. It actually connects to the value of the product. You see these videos and you can’t help saying “Can that blender really do that? Maybe I should get one.” And many people do. You could be a hit on YouTube with a video that doesn’t connect to the value of your product, but that will help your ego a lot more than your sales.

Number one I revise to say that it “evokes an emotional response.” Funny is good. But you can also be touching, provocative, or shocking to the same effect.

Number 2 and 3, Authenticity and Originality are crucial points. The video needs to be honest, and it needs to be something new. If it’s not something new, like a spoof, then it just needs to be done in a new way. That’s still originality.

Number four is the most important of them all, because without a connection to the value of your product, it will be just another silly video that people share and forget about. (Look at Bridezilla as the perfect example of this. Does anyone remember that this video was for Sunsilk?) This is where real brainstorming, or perhaps just a brainflash, comes in.

George Wright noticed sawdust on the floor of the Blendtec testing rooms because Tom Dickson was testing their industrial blenders in unconventional ways. George envisioned a niche audience that might appreciate these experiments, and he was absolutely right. It’s hard to believe, but Blendtec has made blenders cool for men. Every guy I’ve asked who has seen one of these videos claims to want one. Now whether that’s to help out in the kitchen or to reduce found objects to dust, that is the question.

Saddam Hussein Snuff Film

It is Viral Video day according to my Editorial Calendar, and the viral chart topper of the week is the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. I didn’t want to watch this video, because there are ugly moments in life and death that aren’t worth burning into your memory. I (sort of) understand the gravity of this moment and the historical implications of it all. I might have filmed it too, had I been there. But I’m not much for watching people die in real life. To me that’s a snuff film.

I scrubbed through this video near the end, catching a few frames of Saddam with his neck obviously broken. Some things about this video were shocking, death aside:

  • The environment is medieval. Dark and dingy.
  • Saddam was unnervingly calm, as if drugged.
  • It seemed chaotic at times with people speaking and yelling, and the guy with the phone camera kept moving around. Was it to get a better shot? Was it to avoid being caught taping?

Political and news related video that contains footage that cannot be shown on television makes people want to see it. Also, the controversy over Saddam’s execution, and over the respect (or lack thereof) he was shown during his final moments has created even more interest. Then there are the ‘rubber necking’ curiosity seekers who just have to view it because it’s there. I suggest you read about it and move on to the Gansta Happy Feet Remix.

SNL – Digital Short – A Special Christmas Box *Uncensored Version

See VVHQ Wiki Entry for this video.

Dick in a Box Shirt from Busted Tees
Dick in a Box Shirt (detail) from Busted Tees