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Radiohead to Bring Back Napster?

By Stuart Schultz

No – it’s not what it sounds like. No time soon will pirated MP3 files be sailing effortlessly across the Interweb and into our iPods. But last week’s release of Radiohead’s newest CD, In Rainbows, has got the blogs (and even the Wall Street Journal) abuzz with speculation about the future of music. Is it that good? Well, maybe, but that’s not the point. The real reason Radiohead’s making headlines is because they’re allowing people to download the album DRM-free from their website, and… wait for it… wait for it… You get to choose the price. Yes, that means anywhere from zero to a googol.

If other bands follow suit and you’re not the type of person to pass up a freebie, then those salad days spent downloading pirated music—and being investigated for having an illegal copy of Willow—will effectively return.

Of course, the entire industry moving in this direction is a bit idealistic. If everyone paid artists $0 for each album, the system would quickly become unsustainable. In addition, the reason bands sign with recording labels in the first place is to get distribution—most struggling artists can’t just throw their music up on the Web and make money (despite what MySpace users will tell you). As an established band with a huge existing fanbase, Radiohead can buck this trend while still raking in cash from tours, merchandising, and other cash cows in their menagerie.

Nonetheless, at least I can hope that the music industry turns into a commune of freegan anti-capitalists, and every time I buy an album, I get to pick the price (except for those I still pirate—just kidding RIAA).

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