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01 octobre 2007

Radiohead experiments with album download

Radiohead, the seminal British band known for its experimental sound, is experimenting with a new delivery format. Its first album in four years will be available for download from the Internet in 10 days, the band announced late Sunday night. And the price? Whatever fans feel like paying.

The news was made public on a website at (the name of the new album), which features text links on a psychedelic rainbow background. When you click on a question mark next to the word "Price," you are taken to a page that says: "It's up to you." Clicking on another question mark takes you to another page that says: "No really. It's up to you."

The British group's album is just the latest experiment in offering music for free (or close to it). Spiral Frog, which launched last month, allows users to download songs for free from a number of record labels, including industry-leader Universal Music, and plans to pay for the downloads with revenue from online advertisements.

A similar British service called We7 is backed by a number of industry heavyweights, including singer Peter Gabriel. Qtrax, another site that plans to offer ad-supported downloads, is expected to launch soon, and says it has signed deals with several of the major record companies.

Amie Street, which sells music from a number of labels (including Vancouver-based Nettwerk Records, home of the Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan) has a slightly different model: songs start out free and the price increases as more people download them, to a maximum of 98 cents per track.

Toronto-based singer Jane Siberry (who now goes by the name Issa) has been offering her songs online since 2005 as a "pay what you want" download. According to the latest statistics on her website at, the average price paid per song was $1.18, and more than 90 per cent of the people downloading music paid the suggested price or higher.

Like Issa, Radiohead is able to experiment with how it delivers music to its fans because it is not under contract to a major record label. The band's contract with EMI expired with the release of its last album, Hail to the Thief, in 2003.

In addition to a pay-what-you-want download, fans of the British band can also pre-order a special boxed set of two 12-inch LPs and two CDs, with artwork, enclosed in a customized sleeve, for 40 British pounds (about $tk Canadian). The site says that the boxed sets will be shipped by December 3.

Radiohead is one of the few bands that haven't embraced Apple's iTunes online record store. Singer Thom Yorke has said the group prefers to have people download an entire album rather than individual songs. The band recently signed a deal to offer its albums through a British site called

Several bands -- including Wilco, a popular folk-rock group -- have experimented with streaming new albums over the Internet before their official release, but Radiohead appears to be the first major group to offer the entire album for download without naming a price (a note on the site says that downloads "may be subject to a transaction fee").

MATHEW INGRAM Globe and Mail Update

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