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Radiohead's publishing company reveals the take from 'In Rainbows'

October 15, 2008 |  4:10 pm

I don't want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover...

For a band like Radiohead, with an enormous and slavishly devoted fanbase built after a decade in the major-label trenches, its pay-what-you-want distribution system for "In Rainbows" seemed a pretty safe bet.

Now details are surfacing as to just how much lucre the band pulled in by pulling out of traditional release strategies late last year (well, for a few months, anyway). At a conference in Iceland today (how unfortunate!), Radiohead's publishing company, Warner Chappell, was to report that among digital downloads, physical CDs and boutique box sets, the band "sold" 3 million copies of "In Rainbows." Additionally, before "In Rainbows" was given a physical CD release on Jan. 1, the publisher was to report that the band earned more income from downloads of "In Rainbows" than it did during its entire run of  2003's traditionally released "Hail to the Thief."

It's the first time that hard numbers have surfaced regarding the take of "In Rainbows" in all its formats, although no details were provided as to the average price fans paid under the pay-what-you-want model. However, Warner Chappell acknowledges that illegal downloads and torrents outnumbered legal downloads, but the band expected as much and it didn't seem to hinder the experiment. Music Ally has a long and thorough report on how, exactly, the unique licensing arrangements made these sales more profitable, pound-for-pound, than the traditional model, but among the fun facts are:

1. Radiohead sold 100,000 disc boxes of "In Rainbows," which at around $80 apiece represents a haul of, oh, $8 million. Trent Reznor seemed to pick up on this reward-the-fanboys market too, as his collectors' edition of Nine Inch Nails'  "Ghosts I-IV," which while limited to 2,500 copies, still raked in $300 apiece, which will buy you an awful lot of black T-shirts. 

2. Even after the pay-what-you-want deluge of downloading, the physical CD still sold 1.75 million copies worldwide, according to the publisher, which puts them alongside Lil' Wayne in proving that making music free digitally doesn't necessarily impede sales.

3. Despite the album being available to download for free on Radiohead's website, 30,000 goobers in America paid full price to get "In Rainbows" from iTunes in its first week of release.

Well, all we can say to Thom and Co. is congratulations, and we won't expect to see you on any future editions of this list.

-August Brown

Photo of shiny, shiny gold by AFP / Joe Klamar / Getty Images