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Making music in a world of freeloaders

Turns out that freeloaders by a 62 to 38 percent margin outnumbered the fans willing to pay for Radiohead's new album, and's Charles Cooper is not surprised.

OK, so we're a nation of cheapskates after all. Tell me something I didn't know.

The latest album release from the band Radiohead tested whether the public would support a scout's honor arrangement. If enough people would pay to download the band's music, that might serve as the harbinger for a different sort of distribution and sales model.

Until now, consumers could do little but bitch about the rip-off prices they were charged for music. After years of grumbling about greedy retailers and corrupt music moguls, here, finally, was a golden opportunity to change the future. They just had to do the right thing.

Well, we can still dream. It turns out that freeloaders by a 62 to 38 percent margin outnumbered the fans willing to pay for the British band's new album, according to ComScore.

Can't say I'm really surprised. The pick-your-own price idea isn't novel. Software developers have offered so-called freeware applications for decades. The idea being that the free stuff would entice some people to upgrade to the more feature-rich versions which cost real money. Even though you'd be hard pressed to find many companies that struck it rich going that route, it was, at the very least, good publicity.

An established band like Radiohead, which has rich corporate backing, can afford to put out a loss leader. The guys jamming two houses down from me just starting out don't have the same cushion.

But I'd be careful about dismissing this as a pipe dream. Just as one data point hardly makes for a trend, there's nothing conclusive here--other than a depressing reaffirmation of human selfishness. Music attorney and industry exec Chris Castle made a telling point in a conversation with my colleague Greg Sandoval that the economic lifespan of a music album can extend as long as two years.

Besides, we're talking close to 40 percent of the test group pulling out their credit cards to pay something. Some of us may be insufferable tightwads but maybe we'll one day grow into mensches.