ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Bow Down Before the Files You Serve —

It’s been quite a watershed year for people putting their stuff where their mouths are, or at least where the mouths of “copyfighters” have been.

A number of interesting events happened, but none so easily recognizable as the release of the new Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts I-IV. It’s one thing when a band you know is obscure is doing something risky/weird, and it’s a whole other bag of beans when a really famous band/individual that has always been into a non-silent position on the business side of music steps up to the plate and lets go.

And Nine Inch Nails is pretty damned famous. Either as the “band” or as Trent Reznor, chances are the kids and the not-so-kids and a lot of adults have heard this guy. He gets played on radio a lot, is known for all sorts of crazy great stuff, and qualifies as a celebrity. He fills stadiums, one of which had me in it. He’s the man.

So this year, he announces he has a new album, and he’s going to release it Creative Commons, and he’s going to make it downloadable, and he’s going to sell it online, and he’s going to do a bunch of other stuff. That is big news. That’s not some band featuring four guys who nominally like each other who rip off Tool telling you you can get a .mp3 off their site; this is a kick-ass actual experiment.

So one day the site went up and there was a place to order this new album and a whole bunch of ways to download it and acquire it.

The short result is this thing has sold very well. This has been Trent’s official word on it so far: “First of all, a sincere THANK YOU for the response to Ghosts. We are all amazed at the reaction for what we assumed would be a quiet curiosity in the NIN catalog. My faith in all of you has been restored – let’s all go have coffee somewhere (my treat)!”

There’s no way to know how many of these things he sold, except for in the case of the “Deluxe Version”, which had a specific limited number, and which sold out. We can therefore do real calculations.

The deluxe version, by the way, is amazing.

I mean, just check that deluxe edition out. What an awesome outlay, the kind of “kitchen sink” approach I wish I had the option of with more stuff I really dig. You get books, lps, DVDs, cases… you basically buy a crazy-ass Nine Inch Nails library of joy for only $300.

He offered 2500 for sale. They sold out in a day. One day. Do that delicious, tasty math. That’s $750,000. That’s three quarter of a million dollars. One day. Let’s say that each deluxe kit costs $150 to make, which is not going to be true. But if we go with that, then he made $375,000 in a single day. Cold cash. That buys a lot of flowers for Tori Amos.

There’s a $75 deluxe version, and a $10 CD version, and a $5 download. So there’s all sorts of range of ways to buy it. In fact, there’s a specific range for not buying it at all; Reznor put up a “official” torrent up on The Pirate Bay for you to download it. So the divisions are $300, $75, $10, $5 and Free.

Ignore the morons in the comments section of the torrent, except of course for the ones who are totally unimpressed with this whole “torrent” thing by one of the major music artists in the world, who thinks that Reznor should be paying The Pirate Bay for the privilege! Oh, how far we’ve come.

Anyway, some thoughts.

First of all, what a lot of people on that initial day will remember is how much Reznor’s site was fucking hammered. Hammered to the point that you had to wade upstream to give it money, and then it just kept timing out on the downloads. You seriously had this case of tens of thousands of people, money raised above their hands, just jamming into the doors trying to hand off cash. A couple of my friends had this issue, and the question was “Why not just wait a day?” and you know, it just seemed like nobody was willing to do that. They wanted their NIN and they wanted it now and damn if they had to hit reload a dozen times. That’s an interesting phenomenon. What were they buying? The music or the ability to have it right now?

Second of all, this seems like a really good idea for my next movie, coming up. One of my mentors, Rob, tells me he would prefer more than anything else just to have a downloadable version of the content. He doesn’t need the nice little package and he doesn’t need the shiny, shiny discs; he wants the content to come banging down at a couple megabits a second and be on his hard drive. Price point irrelevant. The idea of tiered content, or, as I now call it, “Pulling a Reznor”, is rather compelling. Sell a deluxe edition, sell a nice version, sell a basic version for the “WHY IS IT NOT $10” crowd, and so on, up to and including downloads. More on this shortly.

It’s too easy for people to see a success and ignore the risk took. An enormous amount of risk was taken here by the NIN organization. I am pleased it paid off.

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  1. says:

    If only NIN were still good, instead of writing the repetitive, formulaic 1 song = 4 lines of lyric repeated over and over and over again and again shit.

  2. ross says:

    Radiohead did the tiered-content model before NIN.

  3. Matt Dunphy says:

    Oh get off the Radiohead thing. Do you also think they were the first major label artist to give an album away for free? Visit and notice that Trent Reznor had uploaded nearly his entire catalog for free in early 2006 (two of the three MP3 torrents are now offline). In 320kbps MP3 format with artwork (rather than 160kbps like Radiohead) Plus two DVD releases, one of which was a two-disc, dual layered release. Plus soundboard recordings of a handful of collaborations he did while on tour with Peter Murphy and TV On The Radio. No big splash, he did it and told his fans about it. He leaked half of With Teeth directly to fans, freely, in 2005.

    Radiohead’s IN_RAINBOWS release was a crippled attempt at implementing a model Trent was talking to the press about a good eight months earlier. I like Radiohead, but they said in the press following their last album that you can’t get CD quality music on a computer, and that’s why they were signing to a label and releasing the album on CD. Their box set contained a second disc of songs that not only could have fit on the first disc, but the content is now being re-released as B-Sides on singles to In Rainbows.

    I realize it’s not out their in plain view, and I don’t think that Radiohead are greedy or anything like that, but I think they get too much credit for a flawed experiment, whereas Trent went whole hog. Creative Commons, multitracks, and he released the sales data the next week, to give other artists SOME idea of what to expect.