I noticed last week on Mashable that the “final numbers” are in for Radiohead’s 2007 experiment, in which the band let people decide for themselves how much to pay for a digital download of it latest album, In Rainbows. In general, the view seems to be that the experiment was a big success with one of the main data points being that “Radiohead had made more money before ‘In Rainbows’ was physically released than they made in total on the previous album ‘Hail To the Thief’” (via Music Ally).”
I mentioned the Radiohead experiment more than a year ago, when it was in full swing, in Radiohead Free Association, so it seems only appropriate to come back to it now that there is some data on how it went. In the meantime, any number of myths have grown up around the band’s efforts, and there has been at least one very good blogosphere discussion about the pros and cons of the “free association” model.
I still have my doubts about how well a fully “free” model, or even a “pay what you want” model would work for most associations, whether it be for membership fees or, as I suggest in the previous post, educational offerings. But as a tool for thinking strategically about the value your organization offers, the Radiohead experiment remains very powerful – all the more so now that it appears to have been a clear success.
What I find most compelling about the Radiohead experiment is that by offering the “pay what you want” option – with “nothing,” of course, being one of the possible choices – the band really put its value proposition on the line. And in doing so – and here is the real lesson of the experiment, in my opinion – Radiohead likely increased its value to its core fans (by once again proving itself an innovator) while also increasing its engagement with hoards of potential fans who might very well never have had anything to do with Radiohead. That substantial income flowed from all of this is testimony to the fact that Radiohead actually had something of value to offer in the first place.
I suspect few associations will or should embrace a fully free model any more than Radiohead has. The band, afterall, stood to make a great deal of money off of physical sales of albums and concert appearances even as it embarked on its experiement. But I think that offering some subset of an organization’s value in a free, open, or “pay what you want” model is becoming essential for cultivating new members and customers as well as simply maintaining relevancy in a given field or industry.
What do you think? Is Radiohead on to something that might be relevant for your organization?
Hedgehog & Fox