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Radiohead's "Rainbows" yields pot of gold

British rock band Radiohead scored its second No. 1 album on the U.S. pop charts on Wednesday with a release that was initially sold on the Internet under a revolutionary “name-your-own-price” system. “In Rainbows” also topped the charts in Britain, Canada, France, Japan and Ireland, a representative for the group said.

The critically acclaimed album sold a relatively modest 122,000 copies during its first official week in U.S. stores, according to Nielsen SoundScan data for the week ended January 6. It sold an additional 10,000 copies the week before, when some retailers put it on shelves ahead of its January 1 release date.

Retail sales also were cannibalized by Radiohead’s decision to allow fans to download the album from the group’s Web site in October. Radiohead has not disclosed Internet sales or the average price paid, subjects of considerable debate within the music industry.

After British music magazine NME reported in September that fans appeared willing to pay $10 for each download, the Wall Street Journal chided the “anti-corporate and anti-materialistic” band for potentially generating a 66 percent profit margin.

But digital measurement service ComScore.com estimated in November that fans paid an average of about $6 for the album, and that 62 percent of downloaders paid nothing. Radiohead countered that the ComScore data was “wholly inaccurate” and that it was impossible for outside organizations to have accurate sales figures.

Radiohead’s last album, “Hail to the Thief,” debuted at No. 3 in 2003 with first-week sales of almost 300,000 copies. The group previously went to No. 1 in 2000 with “Kid A,” which started off selling 207,000 copies.

“In Rainbows” marks Radiohead’s first album since it declined to renew its contract with EMI Group Plc. It was distributed in the United States by ATO Records Group, a label co-founded by rock musician Dave Matthews.

Radiohead is feuding with EMI after London newspaper The Times claimed the band rejected a $6 million advance for “In Rainbows.” Frontman Thom Yorke, describing himself as “extremely upset” about the report, took to the Web last week to deny that the band wanted “a load of cash” from EMI.

Meanwhile, R&B singers claimed the next spots on the U.S. album chart. Last week’s champ, Mary J. Blige’s “Growing Pains,” fell to No. 3. Alicia Keys’ “As I Am” remained at No. 2.

After suffering a 15 percent slide in total album sales last year, the music business is off to a weak start in 2008.

Unit sales were down 3.7 percent from the same week last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

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