Robert Smith “Violently Disagrees” with Basic Economics

February 28, 2009


Robert Smith took a brief hiatus from his normal day of aging badly, threating to break up the band and shopping for eyeliner to blast Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want experiment for “In Rainbows.” It’s not really too surprising to hear legacy acts complaining about the internet and people in general, but Smith’s comments stand out for contradicting one of the most basic economic truths (emphasis mine):

“You can’t allow other people to put a price on what you do, otherwise you don’t consider what you do to have any value at all and that’s nonsense.

“If I put a value on my music and no one’s prepared to pay that, then more fool me, but the idea that the value is created by the consumer is an idiot plan, it can’t work.”

That is the only way that value is created. By the consumers. (Note: value can be skewed by protectionism, subsidies, price fixing, etc.)

He also seems to have forgotten his previous tiff with iTunes, in which he complained that the prices were too high.

I guess any press is good press when your band peaked 20 years ago.



  1. Ha. Laughable. I already hate this guy for ragging on Radiohead, the greatest band of all time.

    The point Smith is short-sighted about is that his record label *assigned* value to his work; probably about $13.99 or so, the price of a retail CD. If consumers placed greater subjective value on that CD that its 13.99 price tag, they purchased it; if not, they didn’t buy.

  2. I have more in common with this fellow then I would like to admit: peaking 20 years ago and faulty economic logic. No wonder that patio table I’ve been trying to sell for YEARS at almost retail price is not, well, selling.

    P.S. I would love to see this dude get a ‘makeover’ by Adam Lambert.

    • Yeah, that whole “supply and demand” plus something only being worth what someone else will actually pay for it is kind of a problem. Some things from 20 years ago will appreciate in value (apparently this doesn’t include real estate, at least not anymore). Most, however, will sell for much much less than you’d like.

      I’m sure Robert Smith and Mr. Lambert would see eye-to-mascared-eye on many subjects, but with Smith pushing past 50, I’m not sure how much can be done for him.

  3. Ahaha get a life!!! Robert Smith influenced Radiohead and you bash him for it!!! True right what he says is sooooo true. How much do you value yourself? Would you work for 30 pence an hour? I dont fukn think so!

    • Thanks, Lovesong.

      I doubt I’d work for 30p an hour. I value my time more than that so I go and find a company that will pay more.

      I could go to a company that tops out at 30p/hour and demand that they pay me more. And either they would or they wouldn’t. But it’s up to the company, because they’re paying the salary.

      It’s not up to me. If I don’t like the wage scale, I take my services elsewhere.

      Those paying set the prices. Not the other way around. This is why CDs are down to nearly half the price they were in the mid-90s.

      Anyway, I’m sure you won’t be back so just consider thinking a bit before you start banging away on the keyboard.

      And if the Cure influenced Radiohead musically, that really doesn’t have anything to do with what Robert Smith was talking about. Re-read that section.

  4. I have to agree with Robert Smith on this one, and not just because I love him dearly. (And by dearly, I mean completely and utterly obsessed. I get to gaze into those heavily made-up eyes on a daily basis thanks to the lovely Robert Smith background on my ipod.)

    The problem with Radiohead’s idea is that consumers will pay virtually nothing if given the option. Did I like In Rainbows? Yep. Did I pay for it? Of course not. Americans tend to be greedy and that’s why sellers must set a price for the consumers. Yes, it has to be something reasonable enough that consumers will pay up, but it can’t be entirely decided by consumers or they won’t pay more than a cent.

    • Read CLT’s latest post :-):


    • Rachel –

      It’s not just Americans that are greedy. It’s everyone everywhere. But you did follow the basic economic rule of deciding what Radiohead’s album was worth to you: nothing.

      This isn’t to say it’s a worthless album or that you’re a bad person for not paying for it. It’s just that when your income (like most of everybody’s) doesn’t edge towards infinite, you decide where you’ll spend your money.

      The album was available for sale at various price levels but your decision was to pay $0. Others decided to pay $5. Or $20. Or whatever.

      Just because prices are set by labels and record distributors doesn’t mean that it’s the only correct price. You can toss all the BEP albums out on the racks for anything from $7-$20 and I’m still not going to buy them. In fact, you can litter the internet with free copies, and I still won’t have them. They’re worth less than zero to me.

      If Robert Smith thinks that an arbitrary price should be set, than that’s what is actually being delivered. It’s not an economy in action. It’s just a form of price fixing. And those who don’t want to meet that arbitrary dollar amount will find other ways around it.

      Stuff is only worth what people will pay for it. If getting as close to free were the only motivating market force, the streets would be overrun with Yugos.

      BTW, I like Robert Smith as well, although I tend to believe they should have called it quits after “Disintegration.”

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