Back in November I asked how many people actually paid for Saul William's album when given the choice to download it from his website for $5 or free.
Now Trent Reznor, Saul's collaborator, has revealed that approximately 80% of didn't pay. I was one of them. And he was "disheartened" by this.
Saul on the other hand is quite content with the results, understanding that it was an experiment of sorts and that this innovative method actually liberated him from dealing with record labels and allowed him to keep any profits made. He also states, "You're dealing with myself, an artist not everyone has heard of and not everyone is going to necessarily try if they have to pay for it." He then tells us most of artists' revenues come from touring anyways.
Exactly. I am in that camp. I didn't want to pay for something that I had no idea what it was other than Trent Reznor telling me he liked it. And now, given the opportunity, I would go see Saul Williams perform.
As Saul says, his album is now on my iPod and when the album was first released, I sent the link to lots of friends. And that was the most important thing... just getting that initial exposure and generating some buzz.
Now Reznor is again modifying and expanding his technique with the new Nine Inch Nails album. After dumping his label, he has released Ghosts I-IV on the web, even uploading Ghosts I to BitTorrent himself and encouraging others to share it for free.
The first one's free and you are encouraged to buy Ghosts II-IV for $5. But even the free version comes with extras like a 40-page PDF, backgrounds and web graphics so you too can shamelessly post it to you blog this and do his advertising for free.
Now come the important questions. This model may work for established groups like NIN and Radiohead... and it is innovative to give a little something away for free. How do you think they talk you into buying the whole Hickory Farms gift basket? First they let you try the summer sausage.
But does this really change anything? Will those who download for free be encouraged to pay $5 to get it from the artists' website? I think this is great for smaller acts... anything to take control and money away from the record label and put it in their own hands. But Saul Williams is still a very unique case. Not all groups have the help, friendship and expertise of Trent Reznor on their side.
All in all, this is a move in the right direction... let's see where it takes us.