Trent Reznor Continues Business Model Experiments: Releases Latest Album Online

from the with-choices... dept

Trent Reznor has certainly been doing a lot of experimenting lately with business models. His last album, which was still on a major label, involved some unique promotional attempts, which actually upset his record label. He also recognized that since the CD itself was going to compete with online downloads that he needed to make the physical CD worth purchasing by making it cool (in this case, color changing after you played it). Late last year, he also experimented with offering free downloads for an album he produced with Saul Williams. While he admitted he was a bit “disheartened” that not that many people paid for the album, he also noted how much attention the album got and Saul Williams admitted that it was working out great overall.

Now that Reznor is totally off-label, he’s pulled a bit of a Radiohead, surprising just about everyone by simply announcing his new Nine Inch Nails album on his website and offering a variety of options in how to get it. Given his disappointment with the Saul Williams experiment, perhaps it’s not a surprise that he hasn’t totally embraced the free concept. The album itself is 36 songs, nearly two and a half hours of music — but he’s only offering the first nine songs for free. However, he is offering a variety of choices for people who do want to pay — starting with $5 for a complete download (in a choice of high-quality, DRM-free formats) of all songs plus a 40-page PDF of additional content and a “digital extras pack” with graphics that can be used as wallpaper, icons and anything else.

There are other options as well, reminiscent of other musicians who try to offer reasons why you should spend more. For Reznor, those options include a $10 2-disc CD with 16-page booklet (and all the downloads), a $75 Deluxe Edition which includes the CD, a data DVD with all of the content and a Blu-ray high definition DVD with an accompanying slideshow, and finally, a $300 “Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition Package” that includes everything in the Deluxe Edition plus a vinyl version of the album, limited edition Giclee prints packaged in a “luxurious package” which will be numbered and signed by Trent (only 2,500 of those are available).

While those options could be improved upon (and only offering up the first nine tracks for free certainly won’t stop the rest from being available online), it’s yet another example of a musician recognizing that a plan that lets fans pick which option is worth it — and making sure to provide real value for the different options — is the wave of the future for business models. I’m also a bit surprised that he didn’t follow the lead of several other musicians in tying the packages to other things, such as live events. Still, it’s another good example of a musician experimenting with important new business models. Update: Two additional points that are worth mentioning. The album has been released under a Creative Commons license and Trent has seeded many bittorrent sites himself with the first nine songs.

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Comments on “Trent Reznor Continues Business Model Experiments: Releases Latest Album Online”

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Reason says:

Re: Creative Commons licensed

Keep in mind that the future of (legal) music distribution might depend on the success of this strategy. Also keep in mind the Creative Commons license is simply a pragmatic way of saying they won’t bother going after your ass if you pirate it, but that they are still hoping you will shell out some money for their work. Seriously, where else have you seen offered THIRTY-SIX (36) tracks in DRM-free, lossless quality (+ a nice artwork PDF) for 5 meagre bucks? Apple would charge you that for 5 tracks, which isn’t even half an album. If $5 is too much for good music AND a cause, you disgust me.

Liam says:

Re: Re: Creative Commons licensed

what is you are a single parent, bringing up two young children, who need food, clothing and somewhere to live, and you have a budget which covers that and only that, yet you are a music lover and download the album on bittorrent.

If that disgusts you then, you are a disgusting person.

Sajjon says:

Re: Re: Re: Creative Commons licensed

Liam…And your choice to have two children and the unfortunate circumstance of your children being raised in a single parent home somehow justifies the theft of someones product? Please tell me this is not what you are teaching your children. Get rid of the internet connection and you would have the money to buy the album in stores, or some food for the kids. Choose your consequence wisely.

Reason says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Creative Commons licensed

Again the theft fallacy, huh? NIN released it under Creative Commons, so there isn’t even a copyright infringement if you download it at all. The point isn’t that. The point is that they are offering a good deal for most, in addition to making a move towards a fairer but still workable music economy. If you can afford it and the combination doesn’t convince you of showing your monetary support, you deserve the scorn of a hypocritical parasite.

Reason says:

Re: Re: Re: Creative Commons licensed

Well, if you are under such grievous circumstances and $5 really is too much, I suppose even Reznor wouldn’t mind. But even then, consider that they are still giving you 9 tracks of the album for free…
In any case, my comment was actually directed at the many more pirates (of which I am one, btw) who use the overblown prices of corporate music as a rationalization to download music, because $5 for a lossless double album (or quadruple, whichever way you want to see it) IS a pretty fair deal, in addition to the fact that by supporting this move you’d be putting your money where your mouth is.

Guille (user link) says:

Re: Re: Creative Commons licensed

Don’t get me wrong, I gladly paid the $10 for the CDs, and might have paid for the deluxe pack if it weren’t for the damn venezuelan foreign exchange restrictions. But my comment was aimed mostly at the “not embraced the free concept” line in the article, since (in my opinion) he’s embracing the free concept by giving explicit permission to copy and redistribute the material. I think the success of this strategy depends not only on how many downloads they sell, but also on how much exposure the music gets and on how much of that exposure is translated into additional revenue from concerts and whatnot. And the freely distribution and remixing of the music made possible by the CC license is one way to achieve that.

Hellsvilla (user link) says:


Apparently he wasn’t really disheartened after all. Now let’s hope that he doesn’t get disheartened that many of his fans don’t even bother stealing this album, which is over 2 and a half hours of instrumentals.

Trent, stop making instrumentals. I have all your albums, I don’t buy them for the instrumentals. I rip everything to my ipod, I delete the instrumentals.

The instrumentals, they aren’t what you think they are.

Paul (user link) says:

Re: well

It’s odd that you’d assume that everybody thinks the same way you do in reference to his instrumentals. I for one feel he’s of the few individuals these days that can even make an instrumental worth listening to. His instrumentals are amazing and I understand maybe they’re not your cup of tea. Just don’t go assuming they aren’t anyone’s cup of tea. People forget to not confuse their opinion with everybody else’s.

Dan (profile) says:

great, except site

The options are great, cept when I went to the site and tried to order the CD, or do anything else, it got hung up between the first and second pages (moving to the purchase-cart-quantity page). Reloading it did not help. (Meanwhile I am running a speed check and it shows a strong connection at 1.5 MPS).

Web to Reznor, you need to have a site that works if you want people to use it.

rb6elite says:

Re: great, except site

the site works…it was just so clogged by people eager to download the album. too many people on the site, and it proves that people ARE going to buy it.

(and to the person who said “stop making instrumentals”, you obviously aren’t a true fan, because many of the instrumentals are some of the most beautifully composed pieces of music in the modern era. fans do like them. ‘La Mer’ was a gigantic success in its era)

also this is the greatest musical deal i have yet to see. if you aren’t willing to pay 5$ for 36 tracks, go die in a hole…its less than 14 cents a track, in 320kbps. otherwise deal with 9 tracks for free.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

I Love NIN

I have been a fan of NIN since I was introduced to it.
I started with Pretty Hate Machine and its remix cds for Head Like a Hole, Down In It, and Sin and then moved on to all the rest.
I will admit that I did not know of him really until about The Downward Spiral, but that is fine.
There is a definite evolution to his music over time if you start with the first disc (just ignore remix cds for the sake of saving time) and continue all the way up to now with Year Zero and now Ghosts.

And Hellsvilla, rb6elite is most definitely right on the money, Reznor has always had instrumental tracks. I love all of them.

As another commentor mentioned, he uses the Creative Commons so that people will take and remix his songs. He highly encourages it.

And as for why the page was having issues for your order Dan (post #3), its because too many people are using it.
He states it on his most recent blog post.
Note: There is no saying how long that post will be up.
His blog contains no history. However, there are a couple dan sites out there that document all of his blog posts. You will just need to find the March 2nd entry.

Cognoscenti says:

The Saul Williams Effort

If Trent Reznor was disappointed with the success of Niggy Tardust by Saul Williams (or rather, the lack of it), perhaps he needs to refresh his perspective. Saul Williams is talented, but he is not well-known. His music is innovative, and therefore not conventional. The outcome, therefore, could only come in one of two ways:

1) Niggy Tardust is embraced by the masses as it becomes a seminal event in music history

2) Niggy Tardust will attract the fraction of music lovers out there looking for something off the beaten path and more innovative

I think sales reflected the latter. Hell, even for those who decided to not pay, I’ll bet you won’t have much luck finding it among their playlists. I predict Ghosts I-IV will be on par with Trent’s last instrumental release: neither raging success nor abysmal failure, but certainly a treat for his fans.

Trent has displayed one of the keenest insights of any musician today on this shifting market, but I nevertheless hope he sees the lay of the land as clearly as we do.

Pope Ratzo (user link) says:

No mas

For Reznor, those options include a $10 2-disc CD with 16-page booklet (and all the downloads), a $75 Deluxe Edition which includes the CD, a data DVD with all of the content and a Blu-ray high definition DVD with an accompanying slideshow, and finally, a $300 “Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition Package” that includes everything in the Deluxe Edition plus a vinyl version of the album, limited edition Giclee prints packaged in a “luxurious package” which will be numbered and signed by Trent (only 2,500 of those are available).

How much to have Reznor come and give me a backrub?

At some point, either your music’s worth something or it’s not.

Sandoz says:

always a tech pioneer

Ah, the complexities of Mr. Reznor. I’ve been a fan of his since 1988, so that is 20 years of conflict over a talented musician who happens to be an unyielding misogynist. What’s a girl to do…
He’s always been a pioneer in music and technology and it is really exciting to see him extend this as not only an artist but also a business man. I really, really hope this pans out and starts to empower other musicians to take innovative approaches toward their music distribution. I hope his chutzpah is rewarded. btw- I also find many of his instrumentals to be some of his most amazing and enduring work. If music boils down to vocals for you, go download some Celine Dion.

Kevin says:

Re: But Mike....

This will clearly only work with NIN or other large bands. It’s not proven until 50% or more of the artists release music this way, duh!

I’m not so sure about the “clearly” part since only a handful of bands have “announced” similar methods of distribution, and most of them have been large. But that may be because only the large bands will be well-known enough that media take notice of the announcements on a national or international scale.

However, there are also a large number of smaller, less-known bands who have been trying to make a living from “alternative” (i.e., not “big label”) distribution methods for years. How successful are they? I’m sure some of them make a living at it without having become internationally known musicians. Some of them undoubtedly do break through or cross over to the big label model. But just because only a handful of former major-label acts are getting press for adopting alternative models is no reason to assume that the models can’t work for other musicians.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: But Mike....

He’s being sarcastic. He’s poking fun at all those ACs out there that keep switching back and forth between “it will only work for big bands” and “it will only work for new bands” and the infamous AC last week who said he would only change his business plan if it works for more than 50% of bands.

4-80-sicks says:

Re: Re: Re: But Mike....

…infamous AC last week who said he would only change his business plan if it works for more than 50% of bands.

That was indeed Corey, and not an “AC;” The topic was books. I like Corey. It’s great to have participation from someone with an opposing viewpoint who consistently uses a handle. Corey might disagree a lot, but he (or she) is not a troll!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: perfect

>> “At some point, either your music’s worth something
>> or it’s not.”
>> Well put, Thank You.

Yes, it is well put, huh? Value-added content for $300.00? Signed by the artist? Who would have thought there was a market for this?

Oh yeah, the artist, who consequently is interested in making art, not manufacturing music.

Big difference between the two!

minusxero says:

And more clarification

For clarification, not only does Trent realize the whole album will be distributed, he doesn’t really care.

“Undoubtedly you’ll be able to find the complete collection on the same torrent network you found this file, but if you’re interested in the release, we encourage you to check it out at, where the complete Ghosts I-IV is available directly from us in a variety of DRM-free digital formats, including FLAC lossless, for only $5. You can also order it on CD, or as a deluxe package with multitrack audio files, high definition audio on Blu-ray disc, and a large hard-bound book.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Thanks Chronno S. Trigger

Spot on.

I think that when we look back 5 to 10 years from now and see how the landscape has changed we’ll be amazed. This is just one example of a very talented musician using his creative abilities to dream up new ways of doing what we all want to do — make money, realizing that perhaps simple distribution does not have to be his prime method. We will see many new and exciting ways creative people will choose to promote themselves!

Anonymous Genius says:

Simply Groundbreaking

I don’t know how Mike thinks those options could be improved. This is an amazing breakthrough as far as delivery and pricepoint. I downloaded radiohead, and went back and chipped in $3. They should get massive credit, however this changes everything, especially putting it out on the piratebay after his website would not work.

For $5 I would buy albums of band I only kind of like just to support them, and simply realizing that the itunes model of digital only (except without paying a middle man ahem apple) and going nearly word of mouth just makes me plain excited to see who will follow in his footsteps. No need for newspapers, or some other alternate distribution in the model of free. The product sold itself sight unseen.

I bought the album as soon as I could, the servers didn’t work, but there is no need to get angry, trent is like the google of the music world, I trusted that I would get it soon enough and the torrents came through at record speed.

Ok maybe he isn’t the google of music, but I am still very, very impressed.

SomeGuy says:

Re: Simply Groundbreaking

Mostly, I think the only “improvements” would be more levels at a more-reasonable stepping; the $5 and $10 are very nice, but then it jumps to $75 and then all the way up to $300. It’d be nice if there were something at, say, $25 and $150. Or make it even more granular, with the idea being that some people can and would pay for other offerings.

Ghosts is the first CD I’ve bought since 2000. I only wish that there were a convenient way for me to support the band more (within my means). (And that there were a better digital distribution method, since the site’s been swamped.)

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Yay CDs

Bought my CDs for 10$ as soon as I got home. (it is 7$ shipping but I view this collection as worth the 17$, even if I haven’t heard it yet, I have that much confidence since I have liked everything else he has done up until now).
However, I had an issue with the download. It got to 42MB of the 283, and then just stopped. It told me it was complete, but it wasn’t. The zippers would not open the file, saying they did not recognize it. And since the download link is a one time use only, I was kinda SOL.
That is when I hit up the Pirate Bay. Got my discs in about a half hour.
Wish I had an eta for my physical copies though =P

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