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Radiohead lets fans price new CD

Rich popstars bless trickle-down economics

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Labelless, but hardly penniless, Radiohead are letting their fans set the price for digital downloads of the band's new CD.

Fans will be able to pay as little as 1p - plus a mandatory 45p credit card fee - for the In Rainbows album. The new release will also be available in physical form - £40 for a box-set - easily affordable to the well-heeled bourgeois bedwetters who make up the band's core following.

Then again, this is such a guilt-ridden corpus of record-buyers they may well feel obliged to make more than the minimum donation.

Radiohead has the freedom to make such decisions: the group declined to renew a contract with EMI/Capitol after their last album in 2003.

The trend is being hailed as a iconic gesture that heralds the end of the big, vertically integrated record label. But it really follows the recent trend of rich popstars giving away their recorded material - while keeping more of the bounty for themselves.

Prince recently distributed his latest CD as a cover mount on the Mail On Sunday, while Travis gave away a Greatest Hits compilation. Robbie Williams has also rejected a major label: shunning the tender loving care of EMI in favour of a management deal backed by infusions of private equity money.

But be careful what you wish for.

The extravagant cost-base of the major label already ensures its obsolescence in the digital era.

"This is the industry's worst nightmare. Superstar band, THE superstar band, forging ahead by its own wits. Proving that others can too. And they will," raved industry punchbag Bob Lefsetz.

But successful artists have always been able to subsidise more interesting but less popular artists on the roster. Last week's BBC documentary on Factory Records revealed the extent to which New Order underwrote ventures such as the Hacienda club for over a decade. When the rich keep more for themselves, there's less for everyone else.

How ironic that these impeccable liberals should be endorsing trickle down economics and contributing to a wider disparity in wealth.

No logos, though. How cool. ®

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