Radiohead sells 3 million copies of In Rainbows, but how much is that in American?

Warner Chappell, Radiohead’s distributor, is announcing that the band “sold” 3 million copies of In Rainbows, the album that they essentially gave away online in a pay-what-you-want scheme. The reports are that they made more on the album than they did on their previous dumpling, Hail to the Thief. Previous sales numbers were in the high hundred thousands, which makes this move particularly interesting.

The official stats show that Radiohead sold 1.75 million CDs – about $17.5 worth, given the vagaries of CD pricing – and about $499,500 worth of iTunes albums (30,000 sold in the first week plus 20K for good measure). They also sold 100,000 box sets. Clearly, they cleaned up but there are still about a million “sales” left over, not to mention countless pirated tracks floating about. One thing, however, is clear: the process can be successful with the right artist and content. By giving old Radiohead fans the opportunity to add premium content to their shopping carts while allowing folks who maybe liked OK Computer but were pretty angry about Kid A (AKA Me) to give the band another chance. Luckily In Rainbows was sufficiently good to warrant a bit of a push by word of mouth. I wonder, also, how much social networking played into organizing the fan base?

Obviously 3 million purchases, in this case, doesn’t directly translate into a multiple of 3 million dollars. Instead, thanks to the pay-what-you-want pricing you have to factor in freeloaders and the oil-rich oligarchs who could have paid Thom and his buddies $1 million for 15 Step alone. However, turning the metric from “dollars” to “sales” creates an interesting new dynamic in an entrenched industry, adding a whiff of Internet-esque metrics to what has previously been simple manufacturing play.