Radiohead album goes live on the internet

What may be the most eagerly awaited 42 minutes and 29 seconds of music in recent times was made officially available over the internet yesterday.

Although no figures had been disclosed last night, thousands of fans who had pre-ordered their copy woke up in the morning to find an activation code for their MP3 download version of Radiohead's seventh album, In Rainbows, had been emailed to them. Thousands more logged on to the internet to listen to the 10 tracks, previously only heard live.

The band's decision to bypass traditional retailers and sell the album exclusively through their website has generated unprecedented publicity, not least because they are allowing fans to pay whatever they think the album is worth – anything between nothing at all and £100.

The decision has sent shivers through the industry, with some hailing it a brave vision for the digital age and others predicting the end of the world as we know it. Yesterday, as some radio stations devoted their entire schedules to the band and played the album in full, it seemed In Rainbows had created the kind of buzz many feared had disappeared from the music scene.

However, observers watching the "honesty box" experiment, hoping to glean a hint as to the future direction of the music industry, were frustrated by news that Radiohead will not be releasing details of the number of sales or how much buyers were willing to pay.

But Bryce Edge, one of the band's managers, said fans were rising to the challenge. "We're prepared to take a risk and we might come out looking very foolish. But we believe if your music is great, then people will pay for it."

Chris Hufford, another member of the band's management team, said: "There are people who are going on websites and saying: 'I don't actually like Radiohead, but I'm going to give them some money because it's a brilliant idea'."

According to bloggers, the album had leaked out on to file-sharing sites ahead of yesterday. However, the reaction by both critics and fans was positive.

On most discussion boards those who had downloaded the album found the urge to confess how much they had paid and argue against those who had stumped up more or less. "I bought Kid A, so this is pay back," said one fan on the BBC Radio 1 site, referring to one of the band's more challenging earlier albums.

Another said: "The money they make from the tour and merchandise will enable them to carry on making brave decisions like this... Buy it for £5, you know it makes sense."

For those who still cherish a copy for their shelves, a "discbox", with an extra CD and free download, will be shipped to them at a cost of £40 in December. It is expected that a standard CD of the album will be released in January 2008 when the band have finalised a new recording deal.

One thing for certain, however, is that In Rainbows – at least for now – will end Radiohead's run of number one albums. According to Meryl Blackburn of the UK Official Chart Company: "They are not a chart-registered retailer so they will not be eligible for inclusion in the chart."

The move has already had its imitators. Yesterday, it was reported that the Grammy-award winning US band Nine Inch Nails were also considering releasing their next album over the net, after cutting ties with their record label. Oasis, the Charlatans and Ash have already indicated that their next work will be heard first on the internet.

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