Radiohead's Thom Yorke says people still need CDs

The group puts out a physical version of "In Rainbows."


Farhad Manjoo
January 3, 2008 1:32AM (UTC)

It would be "mad," Radiohead's Thom Yorke tells BBC Radio, for the band to release an album on the Internet alone. That's why, this week, Yorke and his colleagues are putting out a CD version of "In Rainbows," the album they first offered online, to much fanfare, last fall.

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Radiohead has been celebrated for its decision to go independent -- that is, to ditch its record company and release its work by itself. The band allowed fans to pay whatever price they wanted for digital tracks of "In Rainbows."

It remains a mystery how well that gambit worked (only the band has the numbers, and Yorke isn't dishing them). What he will say is this: In order to hit big, Radiohead had to put out a CD in stores. "It's really important to have an artifact as well, as they call it, an object," because 80 percent of music fans still buy their stuff on CD, Yorke tells the BBC.

The singer added: "We didn't want it to be a big announcement about 'everything's over except the Internet, the Internet's the future', because that's utter rubbish."

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It's a good point, and well worth remembering in a time of digital hype. CD sales will surely continue to fall, but for many years to come, musicians will still have to make little plastic discs if they want to be heard at all.

Shortly after Radiohead put out "In Rainbows," a British music Web magazine reported that fans had downloaded the album 1.2 million times in the first week of sales. Another report by a consumer research firm, however, found that more than half of the album's purchasers had paid nothing for the CD.

In the BBC interview, Yorke dismissed these stats and offered only a vague claim of success. "We're the only people who know" how many people downloaded the album, he said. "It feels wrong to say exactly what happened. But it's been a really nice surprise and we've done really well out of it."

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Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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