radioheadI stopped stealing music off the internet about a year ago. Unfortunately, it didn’t have much to do with morals – I just got tired of keeping up with the stealing technology and the trouble of stealing complete, correctly labeled albums, not to mention the trouble of accidentally stealing the clean versions of rap songs instead of the explicit versions. I guess at some point paying the $9.99 or so at iTunes became worth it to me to download the whole album quickly, along with a bonus track, some album art, and a clean conscience. It might also have something to do with my now having a steady paycheck.

On the other hand, I stopped buying physical, actual CDs quite a few years ago, with the exception of a few special occasions or box sets. Paying up to $18.00 for a CD seemed increasingly ridiculous, especially considering that all I did was immediately rip the songs onto my computer and iPod and then let an irresponsible friend permanently borrow the real, actual album.

So – when Radiohead announced last night that their new album In Rainbows  (which wasn’t expected to come out for months and months) would be released next week, for whatever you wanted to pay for It,  I wasn’t sure what to think. Apparently you go to their website and when you checkout with the digital album and try to pay, it says, “It’s really up to you.” You also have the option of buying a collector’s edition of the actual, physical CD and vinyl record for around $80. And – they’re doing the whole thing without any sort of record label.

I suppose they have to luxury to experiment with this – they’re one of the most popular bands in the world and already have a lot of money and make plenty more through constantly sold-out world tours and merchandise sales. They also have a pretty large obsessive cult following who will be sure to order the special collector’s edition package or at least pay full price for the digital version.

Where does this leave me? I guess I have a week or so to decide. I feel like I’m being pulled in a few different directions:

  1. Would I have bought the album for $9.99 on iTunes? Yes, probably. I’ve bought all of their other albums, although I haven’t been really into them for a few years – ever since I moved on from being depressed in school to being depressed in the workplace.
  2. But do they really need the money? No way.
  3. But shouldn’t I reward them for taking this bold step in the consistently screwed-up music industry? Maybe – maybe I could give them five bucks for trying to make things better for everyone.
  4. But couldn’t I take those five bucks and give it to some charity – some really good charity that fights cancer or AIDS – instead of giving it to Radiohead, who very well may put my five dollars into their Doing Lines of Cocaine off of Groupies’ Asses Fund?
  5. Or perhaps spend the money on a CD by some struggling, lesser-known local band who could really use a boost? Maybe one who lists Radiohead as an influence?
  6. Or even better, couldn’t I keep my five dollars and put it in the Sarah’s Awesome Future Dreams Fund? And perhaps tell myself that if I lived more comfortably I might have more time to work on the cure for cancer on my own?
  7. You know, every time I have more than two beers at Doyle’s I play “Fake Plastic Trees” on the jukebox and frown thoughtfully into my pint. Does Radiohead see any of that money? Because if so, I’ve probably paid for at least one of their bottles of Hennessy by now.