Dear Trent Reznor: Don't Be Disheartened Yet
from the it-ain't-over-yet dept
Back in October, we had mentioned that Trent Reznor was producing an album by Saul Williams and had decided to mimic the Radiohead name your own price model for downloads. At the time, I was a little worried that musicians would simply mimic Radiohead’s first part of the promotion (the name your own price part) without recognizing two important things: (1) the “name your own price” part was just one part of a larger strategy to get publicity for a variety of things that would earn money and that (2) whether or not anyone pays a dime for the album is meaningless in that larger context. We’ve already seen a few people make that mistake, and it’s rather “disheartening” to see that Trent Reznor is making that mistake himself (in part…).
For reasons that are not at all clear, Reznor’s site is a blog that has no history. There’s no way to link to a specific post and once a new post goes up the current one will disappear. However, as pointed out via Digg, the current front page of Reznor’s site has some stats about how the “name your own price” experiment went: “As of 1/2/08, 154,449 people chose to download Saul’s new record. 28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning: 18.3% chose to pay.” Reznor then says: “I’m not sure what I was expecting but that percentage – primarily from fans – seems disheartening.”
Chris Anderson has already challenged Reznor’s math, by pointing out that by avoiding a record label, they still probably made more money this way, but even that is missing the larger point. You don’t do a “name your own price” offering to make money directly off the downloads. Any money you actually make is a bonus. You do it to get publicity and to add value to other things that you’re selling, creating a larger market for them. Reznor seems to admit to that part at the end, stating: “But… Saul’s music is in more peoples’ iPods than ever before and people are interested in him. He’ll be touring throughout the year and we will continue to get the word out however we can.” When you begin to focus on that larger picture, how much is made directly from sales, and what percentage pays vs. what percentage “freeloads” is meaningless. It will be more interesting to see the eventual results going forward.
Of course — there is one more thing that should be mentioned when discussing all of this. None of these business models work if no one actually likes the music. This isn’t a comment on Saul Williams’ music (which I have not heard), but if you can’t make music that people like, no business model is going to be effective. And, especially in the case of a new act that people have not heard of, they may be even more reluctant to pay upfront for the music, because they’re unsure how much they actually like the musician, especially if the music itself is an acquired taste. It’s yet another case where obscurity should be a much bigger worry than “piracy” or “freeloaders.” Every one of those “freeloaders” or “pirates” is not just a potential future buyer, but a potential marketer, promoter or sales person for future endeavors by that artist. To understand the business models in the future of music, you need to take a long-term view. So, don’t be disheartened, Trent. Focus on that final thought and look to the future.