Did Radiohead succeed and Trent/Saul fail?

by Jason Gross

11 January 2008


In a CNET article, Trent Raznor said that he was disappointed with the sales of the Saul Williams album he did but what makes this newsworthy is that this was yet another online experiment in pass-the-hat (getting consumers to pay what they want, like Radiohead).  He was disappointed with this figure: “154,449 people had downloaded NiggyTardust and 28,322 of them paid the $5 as of January 2.”  That comes out to less than 20% of the people willing to shell out five bucks for an album.  But Williams himself in a separate interview with CNET saw things differently.
He was pleased that he had the freedom to work on and promote the record the way he wanted to and also understood that this is only a beginning, meaning that the sales of the album will go on.  Plus, remember that these kind of experiments are in their infancy too. 

Also remember that Radiohead themselves still haven’t released any figures about the online sales of their latest album.  The only guess that’s out there is that they got less than half of people downloading their album to pay for it. Nevertheless, they still have a number one album, even if it’s sold about 1/3 of what their last one did, and that of course can be largely attributed to their pre-CD release download scheme.

So, I’m with Williams on this- patience is needed as this kind of interaction with fans is just beginning.  No doubt that it will be tried out by other bands and some of them will be disappointed like Trent is while others will be happy with the sales they get and the freedom they have.  As an example of that, dig WIlliams’ comments on meeting up with some label execs to see why he rightfully so disgusted with them:

“I’ve been in meetings with reps at labels and they walk me to their urban department. Literally I’m like, ‘But I’m not making something limited to urban music,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, but you’re black.’”

And likewise, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Prince and others have had enough of the majors too and now they have options.  As such, the majors should be plenty worried…

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