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Music group Radiohead’s second stab at a digitally released album, The King of Limbs, was released this morning, even though the band announced early this week that it would be available on Saturday.
The digital release follows 2007′s In Rainbows, Radiohead’s first album released online without studio backing, which it offered to fans digitally for whatever they felt like paying. A two-disc deluxe version of that album was also offered at a higher than normal price.
More than a million fans downloaded In Rainbows in its first month. Around 40 percent paid for the album, at an average of around $6 each, according to Comscore. That added up to around $3 million in digital sales for Radiohead.
This time around, Radiohead isn’t going with a “pay what you want” model. The King of Limbs is available digitally in compressed MP3 format for $9, or in higher quality WAV files for $14. New digital albums are normally sold via iTunes and Amazon for between $8 and $12.
With this latest album, Radiohead once again demonstrates the flexibility digital releases offer artists. The band stole some thunder from Sunday’s Grammy Awards by announcing shortly afterward that it would release The King of Limbs digitally on Saturday — but simply because it could, it ended up offering the album a day early. That’s the sort of thing that will endear Radiohead even more to fans, and it will make music lovers wonder why they have to wait so long for traditionally released albums.
Offering an album digitally on their own also allows Radiohead to shun iTunes and the typical 30 percent cut of sales that it would have to give up to Apple. The band also owns the master recording of the album, which it can then license to studio labels for more traditional disc-based distribution.
True fans can opt for the “Newspaper Album” version, which includes two 10-inch vinyl records, a CD and large sheets of artwork for $48 (with the MP3 download) or $53 (with the WAV download).
While not every band can be successful by striking out on its own, Radiohead’s digital releases show there is hope for a lucky few, despite the music industry’s woes.
Other examples of major music artists going digital include Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor’s Ghost I-IV, which he offered for download completely free, along with more expensive premium options. He followed that release with Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip, which was also made available for free initially.
Radiohead has also made the first video from the album available for the song “Lotus Flower”: