Nine Inch Nails Gets it Right

There are many arguments on how to release an album on the internet.  Radiohead’s In Rainbows album was a success if you ask them but they have not come forward with the numbers yet.  Trent Reznor’s NiggyTardust experiment was a moderate success.  The album wasn’t flying off the digital shelves but it did sell an impressive number even when a free download was available.  You will find debates everywhere from Digg to Slashdot to NIN.com on the proper way to release an album digitally, over the internet, and directly from the artist.

The Skinny

Ghosts_i-iv This past Sunday, Nine Inch Nails released Ghosts I-IV and I have to say that I think they might have done it just about every way possible.  First and foremost, there is the album’s digital download.  You can download the album from NIN.com or Amazon.com’s Mp3 Download Store.  The cost?  Five whole dollars.  If you purchase from Amazon, you’ll get DRM-Free Mp3 files encoded at 256kbps.  However, if you choose to purchase from NIN.com, you will have your choice of 320kbps Mp3 files (DRM-Free of course), FLAC files, or Apple Lossless files.  That is five dollars for lossless digital downloads, that means $5 for exact CD quality audio.  But it is not just the digital downloads for five dollars but rather the other "packages" available for purchase.  That’s what I want to focus on today.

The Extras

There are three alternative purchase methods that really add to the overall distribution for the album.  Let me run down the list real quick:

  • 2 CD Set ($10) – 2 audio CDs in a six panel digipack package with a 16 page booklet, includes immediate full download credit
  • Deluxe Edition Package ($75) – Ghosts I-IV in a hardcover fabric slipcase containing: 2 audio CDs, 1 data DVD with all 36 tracks in multi-track format, and a Blu-ray disc with Ghosts I-IV in high-definition 96/24 stereo and accompanying slideshow.
  • Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition Package ($300) – Sold Out – Includes all features in the deluxe release (including the free download) as well as 4LP vinyl, and two exclusive limited edition Giclée prints for USD$300. Limited to 2,500 pieces, numbered and signed by Trent Reznor.

As you can see, you have some options.  All three of the above editions offer an immediate download credit so that you can get instant access to the music.  But what is important is that there are choices.  There are choices in format if you just download the album, there are choices if you want something more then digital files.  All the basis are covered and reasonably priced for what you get.

Why I Think It’s a Big Deal

I have been following changes in the music industry for years.  I have watched as artists have tried and failed to harness the power of the internet to sell records to their fans.  I watched Prince go from having a pretty cool concept to selling DRM-infused music (though he still tries new distribution methods as well).  I have watch bands on MySpace try to get their music out there.  I have watched artists that should be in the top five lists sit playing local clubs.  Trent Reznor and his people, quite simply, did their homework.  The price is more than fair on all the various packages ($5 for lossless files is a big deal).  The other reason it is a big deal is because Nine Inch Nails has the following to show that it can work.  Enough people are going to notice this if it succeeds.  The fact that all 2500 of the $300 Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition package is sold out shows this was successful just on that alone.  And if Mr. Reznor follows suit by releasing hard numbers a month from now, it will show that such methods can be utilized successfully.

The fact that an artist who had a major label basically asked to be released, and was granted freedom is experimenting with various distribution models to sell his music is a big deal period.  With the internet there are several ways to get your product into a customer’s hand.  This helps prove that people will pay for the most expensive package when a $5 option is available.  It also shows that internet works as a method of direct distribution.

Where It Goes Wrong

The problem with this is that it’s Nine Inch Nails.  Nine Inch Nails has the following to really be successful at this.  That doesn’t mean that other artists can’t learn something from the experience.  Nine Inch Nails can get away with a five dollar price tag, but I’d gladly pay another, lesser known band seven to ten dollars for lossless files.  This method will not be as successful for lesser known indie artists but it can be successful.  Scale is important to remember in such things.  If you have a smaller following then you are not going to sell as many copies of the digital records.

Will Anyone Care?

That’s a question where the answer is a little disconcerting.  Because the answer, realistically is "probably not" because the major labels are not going to get this.  They might try to imitate it but they will do so poorly and then wonder why it didn’t work for them.  The only people that are going to care are the people like me who have been watching and waiting for this kind of direct distribution model.  We are the people that sung its praises.  But short term, no one else is going to care or "get it" and that really is just sad.

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