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Nine Inch Nails demonstrates that yes, you can compete with free

Despite distributing part of his new album in the BitTorrent underground, endorsing piracy in numerous appearances, ditching his label, and perhaps offering one of the best $5 deals of the year, Trent Reznor and his accomplices at Nine Inch Nails managed to make good money. A lot of good money: his new album, Ghosts I-IV, sold 800,000 copies and raked in $1.6 million, in the first week.

What’s surprising about this number, aside from the obvious, is that the album made what it did while being freely and legally available in its full form (more on that in a bit) on the pirate underground. Nobody other than Nine Inch Nails planted the first seed: personally acknowledging that the “free trial” 8-track sample version of the album would be listed side-by-side with the 36-track pirate version, Reznor kindly asked users to buy the CD on the official web site, resorting to no threats and no drama.

But you know what? The full 36-track pirate version of Ghosts I-IV – the version that Reznor kindly asks you to buy from the website instead of download is perfectly legal. Why?

Creative Commons, baby. The copyright alternative! Page 39 of Ghosts’ liner notes states that the album is licensed under a Creative Commons “Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike” license, which unlike a normal, all rights reserved copyright arrangement, grants the listener some-rights-reserved privileges, including the ability to remix and distribute the album at no consequence. There are limitations, of course: the “Attribution” part means that licensees can’t pass the album off as their own, and the “share alike” forces any derivative works to be distributed with similar terms – but free is free!

Now, I know that effectively licensing the album for free was probably not Nine Inch Nails’ intention; rather, it is more likely that Reznor chose a Creative Commons license to facilitate remixing, which was previously used to great effect for Year Zero. Regardless, choosing to license via Creative Commons is an incredibly noble move on behalf of Nine Inch Nails, and an incredible victory for the Creative Commons movement – because outside of the occasional featurette in Wired, Creative Commons seems to be all but sidelined when it comes to mainstream visibility.

Unfortunately, Nine Inch Nails may be one of the few that are currently able to pull a move like Ghosts off. Most other bands of Reznor’s clout seem to be indifferent to progressive copyrights and distribution – a select few choose outright hostility – and most bands willing to mimic Nine Inch Nails’ model don’t have a large enough fan base to fall back on. Even Radiohead, which by itself is something of a force to be reckoned with, had mixed success after venturing into free. Creative Commons is still something of a catch-22 for most folks; however, much like anything new, now that we’ve seen a good success story we’ll likely see other artists follow suit.

Personally, I purchased the $10 version of Ghosts, opting for FLAC downloads and a copy of the CD, whenever it arrives. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest Nine Inch Nails fan – I can’t stand listening to anything before The Fragile – but I am pleasantly surprised with Ghosts. If anything, it’s great music to chill out to, and the album’s gentle, ambient nature means it’s also great music to write to. By all means, check Ghosts out … after all, it is free.



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Meh
By bill3 on 3/18/2008 11:38:25 PM , Rating: 0
If you dig the number a little bit, the album didn't sell well. He said they made 1.6m the first day..nice splashy number, but dig deeper. First of all, if it's anything like video games, the majority of first week sales would probably be on the first day. Well, 1.6m is the same as sales of 160k $10 CD's. Except CD's sell for more like 15-20 on average so it's even less. So this is equivalently to maybe a 200k sold opening week for an CD? Which is decent these days but hardly spectacular.

Next, they said somewhere there was 2,500 of those $300 autographed box sets and they sold out right away. I did the math and that's 750k of the 1.6m right there. Leaving maybe $850k in revenue left that was the result of all the other sales. So basically yeah, you divide that out, some portion of the remaining 850k would be standard CD sales, and he's likely not getting much revenue from his little $5 downloads. And I bet the vast majority of downloaders aren't paying for it either, just as in all past cases like this.

And as an aside, I'm sure this album really sucked, and that prompted a lot of people to not pay. You can just envision the average redneck idiot NIN fan dling it, listening for a bit, and declaring "well this sucks I aint payin for this!". Because you know the album sucked.

So yeah, glossy number, but undeneath the gloss it's not all roses, even with all the free positive publicity all the pro-piracy media outlets (like Dailytech) have given him. Imagine now if you're a small struggling artist and dont get that publicity.




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