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How much is music worth?

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

The latest experiment in digital music begins today, with British rockers Radiohead trying out a "pay-what-you-want" model with their new album In Rainbows. The band has cut record labels out of the equation and made the album available for download through a website (which we would link to, but the site -- www.inrainbows.com -- is currently overwhelmed by traffic). Fans have essentially been told that what they choose to pay for the album is "up to you," although they do have to pay a minimal processing fee.

Radiohead's move has been hailed by many observers as progressive -- unlike much of the music industry, the band is embracing downloading rather than fighting it. More importantly, by making its music available potentially for free, the band is showing a great deal of trust in its fans, believing that they will pay something. One of the criticisms of their endeavour, however, is that they can only attempt it because they're Radiohead -- an established band that has been supported by a record label for years can make a go of it, but an unknown band can't even give its music away. In other words, Radiohead couldn't be doing what they're doing if it hadn't been for the support of their record label.

There will doubtlessly be hordes of people who will download the album and pay nothing for it -- but that's already happening anyway. The question is how many hard-core fans of the band will actually fork over a few dollars for it, and will they pay as much or even more than it would cost through an outlet like iTunes or through an actual record store? Radiohead's move could potentially (and finally) answer the question of what music is really worth.

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