RadioGaga: Lady Gaga's Digital Album Sales Reminiscent of Radiohead

The internet has certainly moved the world, and for the business world, the road has sometimes proven rocky. But by learning from others’ mistakes, business continues rolling along. Take, for instance, the lessons that have perhaps been learned from some bad turns made by the music industry. Before streaming video came online, came streaming music files, and the music industry had quite a struggle as a new form of media and media sharing began to rise. 

In the last week of May, Amazon sold digital copies of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way for 99 cents and faced an online sales sensation in the hopes that the deeply discounted sale would boost the use of their cloud drive.

Lady Gaga, Born This Way

  • Worldwide release: May 23, 2011
  • 288,000 copies sold on first day of release
  • 1.1 million copies sold in the first week
  • Digital downloads sold on for 99 cents
  • Amazon currently selling digital, CD, and vinyl copies for $9.99–$15.99
  • Limited Collector’s Edition includes 12″ vinyl as well as digital download and other items.
  • Album promoted at MTV Video Music Awards and various online venues
  • Potential for album leaks managed with an “Honesty Box” email account—individuals can send in anonymous tips to help prevent widespread distribution of any album leaks.
  • Three songs pre-released as streaming files, unlocked by playing Farmville game application on Facebook

Lady Gaga commands the airwaves at the moment, but are her online ripples really just reverb from a previous online music sale?

Way back in October 2007, Radiohead released their seventh album, In Rainbows, entirely online. A digital release of an album may be de rigueur these days, but Radiohead—who left their major record label after their sixth album, Hail to the Thief—digitally released an entire album just as the music industry was being upended by changes in the World Wide Web.

Around the turn of the century, the music industry was fighting new Web-based programs like Kazaa, Napster, Bittorrent, and other P2P file-sharing applications that the industry saw as services being used to steal and freely share their product—music. This upheaval was further exasperated by the industry’s stubborn struggle to combat P2P copyright infringement rather than first seeking to understand and adapt industry practices to the way music was being shared. (Kind of like how Television is currently working with and using the internet to its benefit, rather than spending time and money trying to shut down services such as Hulu and YouTube.)

So what did Radiohead do in the midst of the music industry’s War on File Sharing?

Radiohead In Context

Every record for the last four—including my solo record—has been leaked. So the idea was like, we’ll leak it, then.

—Thom York, lead singer of Radiohead, interviewed in Wired Magazine

Even after putting out three critically acclaimed albums, Radiohead had never hit the Top 20 on the Billboard charts and received very little radio play…until their fourth album, Kid A, was leaked months before its release date. Their fourth album, Kid A was Radiohead’s first to reach the Billboard Top 20, a feat some attributed to file-sharing technology.

Radiohead, Kid A

  • Album leaked months before official release: October 2, 2000.
  • No video or single was released for promotion.
  • Few advanced review copies were sent out.
  • Entire album made available as streaming audio on various websites.
  • Fans were encouraged to share audio clips with each other and also provided with the ability to stream and share the album on their personal websites.
  • Premiered #1 on Billboard 200.

Radiohead, In Rainbows

  • Worldwide release: Digital album October 10, 2007 (through Dec. 10, 2007)
  • CD and vinyl release (U.S.), January 1, 2008
  • Album made available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon MP3.
  • Limited, made-to-order “discbox” containing the album on CD, a CD of additional tracks, two vinyl records with art and lyrics booklets, an MP3 copy of the album, as well as digital photos and art. Could be pre-ordered on for $80.

Long before Lady Gaga and Amazon, came Radiohead’s independent thinking and ability to tap into how their fan base was already using the Web. After quite a while of battling file sharing in the courts, the music industry finally began to accept the new way their products were being distributed and are still finding ways to use—rather than fight—Web technology and people’s annoying tendency to use it.

Perhaps due in part to the music industry’s earlier struggles, television and film have had a smoother ride as new media tools such as YouTube, TiVo, and streaming video have emerged and risen.


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