Attributions and Contributions - Radiohead Edition

October 18, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

In class the other day, I was trying to come up with examples of personal and situational attributions, when I remembered the Radiohead ploy: offer your new album as a download and let people pay whatever they want, from nothing on up. What kind of person would take something and not pay for it?

Conveniently, economist Tyler Cowen asked people to post to his blog saying what they paid. Most people gave not just the amount but also a comment.

None of the people who paid nothing attributed their decision to their own character traits. Nobody said, “I guess I’m just a cheap bastard.” Instead, they attributed their actions to external factors. (Deviance people take note: many of these resemble “neutralizations”)

It was the band’s fault
  • If they wanted to offer that option I was going to take it. If I had to pay a minimum of five pounds, or ten pounds, I would have.
  • I did not pay anything for it. That was their risk.
Or there was something wrong with the music or the website
  • I have not been satisfied with Radiohead's recent work and didn't think I would like this one (after two listens I think it's mediocre)
  • They have an ugly website that doesn't work very well, so I bummed it from a friend.
  • because they charge so much for their damn t-shirts. I feel like it evens out now.

But, as attribution theory predicts, the people who shelled out money for something they could have had free also refused to see their behavior as a sign of some internal trait like generosity. Instead, they saw it more as a strategy to achieve a goal.
  • I paid 10 bucks. But in reality, part of what I was paying for was the beauty of the idea. Probably would have paid between $5 and $7 if this was already commonplace.
  • £5 plus the service charge. I thought it was a fair price and a concept that needed supporting.
  • 10 pounds. That's the going rate for a cd download, right? I thought it was brave of them to leave it up to the buyer
Now here’s the thing that really surprised me: none of my students had known about the download offer, and it appeared that most of them did not know of the existence of Radiohead. Small class, small sample, but still . . . .


Ken Houghton said...

At Montclair State?

If Bon Jovi can sell out 10 nights at the Pru Center (and the Devils opening night), I'm fairly certain Radiohead could sell out Yogi Berra Stadium from the student body alone.

Small sample, maybe, but likely a 2 sd result, unless they're all us oldsters who saw your adverts on the platform and realised there's a train direct to you now.

Jay Livingston said...

As soon as I got back to the office, I asked our undergraduate assistant (an arts major). Yes, she'd certainly heard of Radiohead, but she hadn't known about the download offer.

I'll keep an eye out for the announcement about Radiohead coming to YB stadium.

Anonymous said...

Ack--I don't see a way to email any of y'all directly. I came across the Radiohead post (and felt old), via Jeremy's blog. I thought I'd thank you for it, and mention that I'm also a blogging sociologist (although I stray off topic all the time). I'm at