Thursday, March 6, 2008

Trent Reznor Teaches Radiohead a Thing or Two About Digital Distribution

First things first, February was an ATROCIOUS month for this blog. Seven posts in 29 days? That isn't the kind of production I expected from myself when I started this blog. Last month was a hectic month for me and I rarely left myself any time (or energy) to write. There's so many things I need to change that I think I get discouraged too easily whenever I conceptualize everything as a whole. For now, I'm going to make it a goal to just start writing and sort out the other shit later (which will include a redesign of this space). Sorry for being so horrible at life.

Anyway, the rapid demise of the major label-controlled record industry continued this week with the surprise release of a new Nine Inch Nails album titled Ghosts I-VI. What made this release so 'surprising' wasn't the lack of advance warning (after all, nobody knew a new NIN was even in the works, let alone completed), or the fact that is was released via a direct-to-consumer approach on the website. What made it stand out was Reznor's creative (and might I add, superior) improvement on the whole digital pay-or-don't pay model that Radiohead popularized with In Rainbows.

Instead of asking consumers to name their own price, Reznor decided to offer Ghosts in a variety of formats (high quality 320kbps MP3, FLAC or Apple Lossless) and packages, ranging from free to uber-expensive. For the casual fan there's a free download of Ghosts I, which includes eight tracks, available through or via bit torrent networks. In the coming weeks parts II-VI will be made available for free download. While those who want the complete four part collection can download it through the Nine Inch Nails website or the Amazon Download Store (I recommend this option, since the download speed is much faster) for the affordable price of $5, which includes a beautifully designed digital booklet and collection of desktop wallpapers (in both standard and widescreen formats). Mr. Reznor also beat Radiohead by giving fans the choice between paying via credit card or PayPal.

For the more serious NIN fan there's a standard 2-CD set for $10 (available April 18th, but with free download privileges thrown in). Die-hards can choose the $75 Deluxe Edition, which comes complete with the 2-CD set, download code, data DVD with all 36 tracks in multi-track format (under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license explicitly for creating custom remixes) and a high definition 96/24 mix on Blu-Ray disc. And the super duper uber-fans can shell out $300 for the Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition package (limited to 2,500 copies and now sold out) which includes everything in the Deluxe Edition plus Ghosts on four 180-gram vinyl records and two hardcover photo books.

What Reznor has done here is perfected the "Radiohead Model" and made it scalable (thanks to bit torrent and Amazon) and flexible to the point where the consumer can choose whatever level of commitment fits their interest. He made good on his critiques of Radiohead's execution and showed the world that fans value content that can adapt to their digital lifestyles. From the casual user who just wants music that will work on all their digital devices (and doesn't treat them like a criminal for shifting that content back and forth) to the hardcore fan who wants an interactive experience, Trent has you covered. He has also proven that customers will pay a premium for extra content, so long as it carries added value to the end-user. And I can't think of anything that adds more value than allowing the user to create their own remix and post their work on, where a community of users can listen, vote and discuss your creation.

Admittedly, not every band can pull off such an ambitious undertaking, but certain aspects (like employing bit torrent distribution and high quality digital formats) can be mimicked by virtually any type of band. Indeed, the times are changing and it's great to see the artists wrestling away control from the record labels and determining their own fates. I can't wait to see what they think of next.

No comments: