That pot of gold at the end of Radiohead's Rainbows may not be as full as thought.
The band's ballyhooed In Rainbows, available only online at a price set by individual fans, may not be the paradigm-changing, label-killing force it's been hyped to be.
A new study says nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated they didn't pay anything for the download.
The findings were announced Tuesday by comScore, an information company that provides real-time measurements of Internet usage through a database of nearly 1 million Netizens. The company has permission to track all the users' Web activity. And according to comScore, approximately 62 percent of the people in its focus group who downloaded In Rainbows didn't kick in a single cent to what's been dubbed Radiohead's "honesty box."
The study was based on sales in the four weeks following In Rainbows' Oct. 10 release.
Those who did pay, forked over an average of $6 worldwide.
Based on its statistical sample, comScore found that Americans were more generous, shelling out an estimated $8.05 per download. Those abroad, mostly consumers in Europe, averaged $4.64 per download.
Some 12 percent paid between $8 and $12, about as much as what Apple's iTunes charges for a digital album. This group accounted for 52 percent of the band's profits.
Finally, 4 percent of the band's fans were dedicated enough to pay between $12 and $20—the same range as a typical brick-and-mortar record shop.
Still, according to comScore senior analyst Andrew Lipsman, Radiohead might be onto something.
"If [Radiohead] is getting $6 on average, and it's basically going straight into their pockets and their costs are minimal, it could be economically viable," he told E! Online.
Radiohead essentially needs to make $1.50 per download to break even, Lipsman estimates, so at $6 per buyer, the group still looks to make out pretty well with the scheme.
"The question is: How will new artists be able to use this [pay what you like] model in the future if they haven't built a fan base in the millions in the years leading up to the release of their album under [this] model?" said Michael Laskow, CEO of TAXI, a leading independent Artist and Repertoire firm.
Lipsman said that the comScore study revealed some interesting cultural differences in the downloading habits of American versus Netizens in the rest of the world, though predominantly in Europe.
"At least anecdotally, it sounds like there's much more of a music-download culture abroad," the analyst pointed out, adding that Americans' higher levels of disposable income might be one explanation.
Lipsman also pointed out that for every dollar consumers spent on download sales, they also spent $2 on Radiohead's $80 deluxe box set, which includes a free In Rainbows download, as well as a physical CD of the album, a bonus disc of eight additional tracks, vinyl records, a lyric book. The package is due to ship Dec. 3.
"It sounds like there will be continuing experimentation with this model," he added. "But the real question is: Was it worth it for Radiohead, and will there be more bands that experiment with it even without the notoriety they have?"
A rep for Radiohead has previously said the band would release sales figures at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Radiohead recently signed a deal with British indie label XL Recordings to distribute the In Rainbows CD in stores outside of North America on Dec. 3. The band is also in talks with a separate label for a Stateside release.
The band's old record company, EMI, meanwhile is trying to get in on the action. The label has announced plans to issue a seven-disc boxed set containing Radiohead's first six studio albums—from Pablo Honey to Hail to the Thief—as well as the live album I Might Be Wrong and original artwork by longtime collaborator Stanley Donwood for $80.
EMI will also make the catalog available in a limited-edition 4-gigabyte USB stick featuring the band's bear logo and CD-quality WAV files; it will also be available as a downloadable digital bundle.
Preorders for the boxed set are now being accepted at radioheadstore.com. The set will be available Dec. 10.
Radiohead has confirmed it will kick off a world tour in support of In Rainbows next May. In the meantime, according to the BBC, the rockers are gearing up for their first Webcast in five years on Friday, where they will reportedly talk about the new material and possibly play some songs.