"Now that we're no longer constrained by a record label, we've decided to personally upload Ghosts I, the first of the four volumes, to various torrent sites, because we believe BitTorrent is a revolutionary digital distribution method, and we believe in finding ways to utilize new technologies instead of fighting them," wrote the band in a text file distributed with the BitTorrent release.
That's very much like the advice that Marshall Kirkpatrick gave to Reznor writing on this blog in January after Reznor complained about the download-to-pay ratio the pay-if-you-want Saul Williams album that Reznor produced received late last year. "Times are changing and if you can, it's better to work on innovating along with them than it is to make dragging your feet and suing people your business model," advised Kirkpatrick.
At the time, Reznor wrote that he was "disheartened" that just 28,322 of the 154,449 people who downloaded Williams' album chose to pay the $5 for a higher quality copy. At the same time, though, that's nearly as many as who bought Williams' previous traditional CD release in 2004 (which sold 33,897 copies) and far more who are hearing his music -- which could theoretically translate to increased concert ticket and merchandise sales. Further, because by not dealing with a label the artist is likely taking a much larger cut of the download revenue than they would receive of CD sales revenue, Williams probably made more money on fewer transactions this time around.
Clearly, Reznor was not disheartened enough to forgo trying a similar type of release for his own new album. Ghosts I-IV part I is available as a free download on the NIN site, as well as on BitTorrent. The entire album is available as a $5 download, a $10 double CD, a $75 "deluxe" package with CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray copies, and a $300 "ultra-deluxe" edition that also includes vinyl copies and signed giclee art prints. The $5 download can also be had via Amazon -- where the album has quickly shot up to the #1 spot on the sales charts.
The 9-track free edition of the album is licensed under a Creative Commons license and is free for non-commercial use. "We encourage you to share the music of Ghosts I with your friends, post it on your website, play it on your podcast, use it for video projects, etc." said the band in release notes.
While it is impossible to predict how this release will fare compared with previous traditional NIN releases, that may not be a fair question. The dynamics of the music industry have changed and artists like Reznor and Radiohead are blazing new trails as they attempt to figure out how to best release music under these changing market conditions. If 18.3% of downloaders pay -- as they did for Williams -- then that's probably not a bad number for NIN, who can bet that they'll get far more downloads than Williams (Ghosts is already the most downloaded torrent at The Pirate Bay) and will presumably be pocketing most of the revenue.
What do you think? Is Reznor's release a harbinger of the future of the music industry? Let us know your thoughts on the issue in the comments.