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Radiohead, ‘The King of Limbs’ and Music Business Acumen in 2011

Serious Fans First
— The new music business model axiom says access over ownership…except in this case. If you want Radiohead’s “The King of Limbs” you’ll have to legally or illegally download it. None of the subscription services, from Spotify to MOG, will have the album until its commercial release on March 29.

This is a hint of things to come. Over time more artists will decide to self-release music in this fashion, thus creating long, staggered release windows that place serious fans first and more casual fans further back in line. Traditional retail must wait in line, too. That means service companies that provide the tools and expertise for the online self-release of albums will benefit from this self-release strategy while the second wave of consumers are left to retailers.

Beating The Pirates
— Did you notice that “The King of Limbs” — as well as its predecessor “In Rainbows” — did not suffer from pre-release leaks? The traditional marketing and promotional effort for a label release is inherently leaky. Promotional and advance copies are everywhere.

Self-released Radiohead albums, on the other hand, are not heard before they are legally downloaded by the first eager fans. In fact, word of the February 14th pre-order didn’t even leak. That’s golden for an artist who wants to stick to a release strategy. Turns out the best way to stop leaks is to leave your record label.

Interesting, too, that “King of Limbs” went out a day ahead of its originally-announced release dates keeping fans, press and especially pirates on their heels.

Social Media Surge
— With Radiohead’s latest announcement and album release, the band got Grammy-like social media buzz comparable to Lady Gaga or Arcade Fire. Their social activity surged after they announced “The King of Limbs”‘s Feb. 14 pre-release.

Its total number of social media followers rose 105% in the week ending Feb. 19, according to Next Big Sound. The band’s weekly Facebook friend additions rose 55%, new Twitter followers rose 643%, new YouTube channel subscribers jumped 1,242% (helped by the concurrent release of a video) and new MySpace friends rose 34%. In all, the band added 125,000 fans (compared to 56,000 the previous week).

Radiohead’s social media gains were comparable to those of Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire in the week after their Grammys appearances. In the week ending Feb. 19, Lady Gaga’s new social media followers jumped 42% while Arcade Fire’s jumped 299%.

All This For Just 8 Songs?
— Would people have pre-ordered the album if they knew it had just eight songs? Most buyers probably would have, but maybe not everyone. Now, there’s nothing wrong with an eight-song album. Quality over quantity, right? “The King of Limbs” does deliver quality. But these days it’s hard to find an album that doesn’t have at least ten songs. Eight songs is a long EP (even if it does run nearly 38 minutes). It all comes down to this: the fact that (an unknown number of) people would pre-order the album with no knowledge of its contents speaks to the high level of trust the band commands with its fans.
(via billboard)