Today Trent Reznor, the lead in Nine Inch Nails, was interviewed in an article for Cnet News.com. Reznor was interviewed over his latest expirment, in which he bankrolled an album “Niggy Tardust” with Saul Williams and then released it without any record labels and converesly any promotion. The entire album was made as a free download, with the option being to pay $5 for a higher quality version. The only promotion was through the NIN site and wherever else Williams and Reznor could talk about the album. The big news released a week ago was that 154,449 people downloaded the album and out of those 28,322 or 18.3% paid for the album. This has been thrown around the internet as the idea that this means that modern consumers won’t pay for music, that we must instead tax those who have internet service and simply offer the music for free.
One issue that I feel has been overlooked is how many people wanted to sample the music first before buying the album. One of the powers of iTunes is the ability to only buy those songs that you actually want, you don’t have to buy a $15 cd for one or two good songs. This is one area in which radio or some similar type of internet system, such as Last.fm or Pandora, play an important role in the digital ecosystem. People do need exposure to music and radio provides that outlet for songs to be promoted. One of the major reasons indie rock took off over the last several years is the ability for a band to through up a webpage on even MySpace and gain an international reach. This wasn’t done in this instance, there was no real exposure for the album beyond some posts on NIN’s site and the few news articles buried in the back of papers about it. Radiohead had way more press exposure being a much more mainstream band. Also how many of those that downloaded the album actually liked “Niggy Tardust”? I did download the album and did not pay for the album. I quite frankly didn’t like the album. I did like “List of Demands” and I also do like NIN’s. I listened to “Niggy Tardust” once all the way through and never did anything more with it. It simply doesn’t appeal to me. I wouldn’t even have downloaded it if I had exposure to the album previously.
If an album is going to be released on the internet, why not make it easy for people to sample the music. Amazon does it for cd’s and their music store as does iTunes, get with the program. If the album is released on the internet before it is exposed to the public, of course people won’t cough up money to pay for an item they have no idea about. Would you buy a product without testing it first, or verifying that you are receiving something that you want?
I do pay for my music, I do buy cd’s from those artists who I listen to their music day in and day out. I pay for the music that moves me, the makes my day better, the music that defined my previous relationships, the music that I sing too and make a fool of myself in the process. That is music that is worth paying for, something that I listen to once and then just sits on my hard drive is not worth paying for. This isn’t to say Saul Williams and Trent Reznor didn’t produce a great album and they shouldn’t be economically rewarded for their time and effort. The album just didn’t vibe with me, if I had sampled it before hand I wouldn’t have downloaded it and I wouldn’t have gone and found it through a file-sharing site if there was no legal way to obtain it without paying.
I am also going to agree with Mike Arrington and just reference his response to Reznor on the idea of an internet tax to pay artists and recording companies. On the issue with Radiohead, that was the worst process I went through trying to download an album, BitTorrent is a heck of a lot easier than that. Radiohead make the system easier for your album and maybe it wouldn’t pop up on file-sharing sites. People will almost always invariably go to the easiest and fastest process to obtain something and that site was not a well designed site and probably did send more a few people to shall we say “different methods” of obtaining the album.
Note: I am not advocating file-sharing, I do believe that artists should be rewarded for their work. However to quote Lawerence Lessing “bits are never going to get harder to copy only easier.”
Update(2 March 2008): NIN just released a new album under a CC license, go check it out.