Radiohead Disputes comScore’s Sales Figures

The music industry’s eyes turned to Radiohead when it released its latest album In Rainbows online under a "pay what you want" plan. Would the band succeed in bypassing traditional music distribution—including big labels’ tie-ins with services like iTunes—by offering music directly to fans and letting them pay the band directly? And not just a fixed price: listeners could pay whatever they felt the music was worth.

Media metrics firms like comScore love to take on questions like that, and last week the company issued a report on Radiohead’s online effort, concluding that, essentially, about two out of five downloaders were willing to pay for Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, with paid downloaders in the U.S. willing to shell out an average of $8.05, compared to $4.64 for non-U.S. downloaders. However, comScore concluded that 62 percent of everyone who downloaded the album are freeloaders, paying nothing for the music.

comScore reached its conclusions based on a sample of roughly one thousand participants in its panel of about 2 million Internet users who have agreed to let comScore monitor their Internet usage, including their online transactions.

In a statement released to MTV, the band Radiohead refuted comScore’s analysis. "In response to purely speculative figures announced in the press regarding the number of downloads and the price paid for the album, the group’s representatives would like to remind people that…it is impossible for outside organisations to have accurate figures on sales. However, they can confirm that the figures quoted by the company comScore Inc. are wholly inaccurate and in no way reflect definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project."

Radiohead did not offer any sales figures of its own.

comScore has posted a statement on its blog defending its methodology, saying that its sample of "several hundred paid transactions" is "a very robust" data set on which to evaluate the success of Radiohead’s online music release. Statistically speaking, that may be true if the people behind those several hundred transactions are, in fact, statistically representative of the Internet user base or Radiohead’s online audience as a whole. And, unfortunately, that’s impossible for comScore to prove, since membership to its panel is voluntary.

Physical copies of In Rainbows are scheduled to begin shipping to fans December 3.

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