The Universal Sigh is more of an event than a publication. Its physical distribution lasts just two days, 28 and 29 March, with handout events in cities aorund the world. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, appeared in London yesterday to hand them out.
The content is strange bits of prose with strange pictures and artworks accompanying. The layout is attractive, unusual and eye grabbing – perhaps because layout elsewhere has become so standard issue.
But much like last week’s launch of Google’s publication, Think Quarterly, The Universal Sigh is intended to get fans thinking and feeling a certain way (the Radiohead way) about a certain product (a new album). And, of course, to create a big stir, to get as many people as possible talking about Radiohead and the release of their latest work – to wave the “look as us” flag as high as possible.
That flag, by the way, is growing in size because of digital and social medias and the penetration these have in Radiohead’s largest markets. Radiohead knows this.
The Universal Sigh is only the latest in Radiohead’s creative efforts to market records. The groups’s 2007 album, In Rainbows, was released for digital download first and distributed on a pay what you can/will basis, after the band broke off from their distributor EMI over Internet distribution disputes. These are my Twisted Words was a 2009 Radiohead song released as a free download, digital single as well.
The King of Limbs followed in these footsteps, becoming available for download six weeks before the physical album. The band will also release a “Newspaper Album” in May, which will include a CD, two vinyls, art and a newspaper different from The Universal Sigh.
The Universal Sigh website is interesting too, although it doesn’t offer any of the newspaper’s content. You’ll need to find a PDF version of the publication for that. What it does do is harbour a simple and effective social fan zone:
An (unusually) black and white Google Maps plugin shows all the places you can pick up the newspaper around the world;
The Photos page displays pictures of thousands of global fans getting their copy;
Although none of the newspaper’s content is particularly time sensitive, an interesting footnote (or head note, as is the case) is a subtle nod to timeliness above the paper’s masthead. It reads: “RELEASED INTO THE WORLD ON THIS DAY”
Finally, ever sensitive to mainstream media fashions and sensibilities, Radiohead’s taken the time and care to stroke the prickly hyde of environmentalists with this notice at the botom of the print edition:
None of this is very new, but it is new. And once it gets old, we’ll start seeing plenty of bands – just like companies – taking the onus on to inform their fans – and customers – of what is important in, relevant to and unmissable about the world of Radiohead (for example).