So I'm a little pissed. I just got the email from Radiohead's merchandising arm, WASTE, telling me that my download would be ready vaguely "tomorrow morning (UK time)" and what does it say?
THANK YOU FOR ORDERING IN RAINBOWS. THIS IS AN UPDATE.
YOUR UNIQUE ACTIVATION CODE(S) WILL BE SENT OUT TOMORROW MORNING (UK TIME). THIS WILL TAKE YOU STRAIGHT TO THE DOWNLOAD AREA.
HERE IS SOME INFORMATION ABOUT THE DOWNLOAD:
THE ALBUM WILL COME AS A 48.4MB ZIP FILE CONTAINING 10 X 160KBPS DRM FREE MP3s.
MOST COMPUTERS NOW HAVE ZIP SOFTWARE AS PART OF THE OPERATING SYSTEM; IF YOUR COMPUTER DOES NOT, YOU NEED TO GET WINZIP OR ZIPIT INSTALLED PRIOR.
YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THEM HERE:
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR PROBLEMS DOWNLOADING YOUR FILE, PLEASE CONTACT OUR DOWNLOAD CUSTOMER SERVICE TEAM AT
Huh?! 160kbps mp3s? That's the best they could do? Are you kidding me? It's 2007. There is no excuse for this. These should have been 192kbps at the very least, but really should have been 256kbps. If they want to lead the industry and other bands to a new solution, then LEAD. As my piece last week said, is this a debacle or a brilliant new idea? The answer's becoming clearer: debacle. Maybe 160kbps is okay for the kiddies who blast this stuff so loud they can't even actually hear the music, but for many listeners, 160kbps is a no-go deal.
All I can say is, I sure am glad I only chose to pay $3 for this. Yes, I admit it – I simply couldn't fathom paying more than that for "mystery files."
It turns out I made the right move. I'd be furious if I'd paid CD prices for the album, especially after seeing report after report that they've either signed or are on the verge of signing with a major distributor to sell the CD in stores next year. But that was part of my criteria – if they want to be vague about the details, both about the future of the album in a physical format as well as the quality of the files, then I'm going to assume the worst, and while they didn't go as bad as they could have (128kbps) they sure came close.
There's no revolution here, folks, at least not yet. It's details like these that could have taken this band from simply "doing something different" to actually setting an example for others to follow. What should have been done? A tiered structure. Cheap, low bitrate mp3s (the ones we're getting) for "whatever price you want" followed by lossless FLAC files, then a low-priced single CD in minimal packaging, a vinyl option, the double-CD in nice packaging for a higher price, and the ridiculously expensive "Disc Box."
Everyone gets the choice they prefer, not this "all or next to nothing" approach that the band is trying to make a point with right now. This is unfortunate. Radiohead has become known for its music as well as the intriguing artwork that envelopes their music, and here we, many of us at least, are going to miss out on what seemed like such a vital part of each release, and something the band took great pride in.
Now it appears that the artwork is meaningless and secondary, at best. If they were hoping to find the divide between music listeners, they may just have done so – artwork is part of the package for me and many others. Maybe it's not a concern for those who grab single files from here and there, regularly not paying for them, but is that really who a band wants to focus its energy on?