Radiohead and the Future of Print

OK, I know that is a mildly ridiculous headline. But hear me out. The Oxford-based band Radiohead have made a move which is giving the music industry the jitters. Radiohead are launching a new album without the help of the majors and they are asking their fans to pay what they want to pay for it (“its up to you”) if they download the music digitally. They are also selling an expensive package of physical goods CD/DVD vinyl disks etc. for £40/$80. Michael Arrington thinks this marks a turning point in the inevitable march of music towards free. Jeff Gomez (at the Print is Dead blog) notes the control with which Radiohead have managed this publication process themselves:

So with one fell swoop Radiohead shatters half-a-dozen rock-star rituals, and further makes the existence of record labels a questionable thing in a digital age.

Jeff does not ask whether print publishers are similarly vulnerable. But the question hangs in the air (it is a Print is Dead blog, right?). On the other hand, maybe print publishers are in a better position. After all, in a curious way the Radiohead exercise is lavishing particular attention on the packaging and the physical product. There is even a book in the package as well as the CDs and the vinyl. One can see that £40 package becoming a collectors item. It is possible that as we embrace the digital, the quality and the value of print magazines and books will actually increase (though as a luxury item) whilst the digital versions become the most popular and evanescent form in which the works are enjoyed.

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