Radiohead: Pricing is Designing
Thu, Oct 4, 07
Are these six words the most revolutionary opening salvo in the fight over the future of digital music?
Radiohead, one of the superstar indie rock bands of the last two decades, has decided to offer its latest album at prices to be determined by consumers. You can order a premium boxed set for $81 or a standard CD to come next year, or pay just a single British penny if you’d like. No price floor or ceiling, or even guidance from the band.
What does this have to with design you might ask.
We easily classify work on, say, the cover of the album, the website, stage appearance and other brand related activities as being part of the overall design. Each of these design activities has direct consequence on the popularity and, ultimately, the income of the band. What an album cover looks like or the stage ambiance at a live concert has significant experiential impact on the band’s audience.
Yet the price of admission to such experience has perhaps more influence than any other (design) factor. It’d be extremely difficult to increase Radiohead’s fan base from, say, half a million to five million by any ‘classical’ design methods. Yet a pricing scheme such as the one Radiohead is experimenting with could do just that.
If you’re in charge of designing a product or service, you must consider all possible factors that add up to that most mystical interaction when customers come in contact with your product.
For example, iPhone’s pricing guarantees that it will not be used by several hundred million users as a short-lifespan, utilitarian gadget. That’s a signal to Jony Ive to take certain directions with the phone’s industrial design.
If you happen to be a web designer or an information architect at Wall Street Journal, nothing you can do will affect readership as much as the fact that much of WSJ’s content is hidden behind a premium price-wall. When the New York Times recently tore down its TimesSelect wall, it opened up enormous opportunities to its designers to come up with services that only make sense at much higher readership volumes, without access barriers.
I think this much is clear: pricing is designing. What’s not clear is, why don’t designers get a seat at the table where strategic decisions are made that then affect all other factors downstream? Why is pricing the sole domain of MBAs and accountants? Why aren’t more designers interested in pricing?