Want New Music? You Name the Price. Really.

In the just-sent-to-the-printer October issue of Release 2.0, we examine some examples of what’s happening on the Web’s edge. One of those examples is the music business and the various attempts to resurrect it. As spelled out in Daniel J. Levitan’s must-read This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, there’s plenty of research to suggest that music engages us on a more basic, perhaps even evolutionary, level than any other form of art. We are, simply, wired to respond to music. Selling music should be easier than selling cheap White Castle hamburgers to hungry teenagers.

It isn’t though, and in the article we consider some attempts to make it easier. We end by discussing the new MP3 store at Amazon and its dynamic pricing model. That model got more interesting today as the prog-rock band Radiohead, recently liberated from a major label deal, announced that it would let buyers of its upcoming album decide what its digital tracks are worth. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Fans are free to name their own price for a digital-download version of the 10-song album, In Rainbows. ‘It’s up to you,’ a message reads when a user clicks on a question mark next to a price box that has been left blank. A subsequent screen adds: ‘No really, it’s up to you.’ By letting consumers dictate what they will pay for a digital copy of the album, the band will test theories of online pricing that have been the subject of much speculation in recent years — most notably, the notion that fans will pay a fair price for downloads if given the freedom to do so on their own terms.”

There will be plenty of other ways to buy the album — a deluxe-packaging physical version will cost roughly $80 — but the many-different-ways-to-buy-many-different-versions experiment is worth following. Only established groups can get away with such a plan, but maybe — for the first time ever? — business innovation in the music industry might be coming from an established source.