Moby Shows (Again) That Free Music Doesn't Cannibalize Paid Music

from the *sigh* dept

To hear the recording industry tell it, you would think that free music means that musicians have nothing left to sell. That’s obviously false, as we keep seeing over and over again that musicians who connect with fans (rather than suing them) and give them something worth buying (rather than forcing the same old thing on them) have no problem selling plenty, despite any “piracy.” In fact, there’s increasing evidence that free music isn’t even a real substitute for paid music, anyway. Earlier this year, we wrote about Corey Smith, and the experiment he ran last summer. Smith offers up all his music for free on his website, but still sells tracks on iTunes. The experiment involved removing the free downloads — and watching as the iTunes sales fell. This is the exact opposite of what the recording industry lawyers insist will happen.

It looks like something similar is happening with Moby, as well. In an email to Bob Lefsetz, he points out that the new song that he’s giving out for free is turning into a chart topper in sales as well:

How’s it going?
The album just came out and it would be #1 euro charts if not for michael jackson re-releases.
So that’s good.
But here’s something funny: the best selling itunes track is ‘shot in the back of the head’.
Why is that funny?
Because its the track we’ve been giving away for free for the last 2 months and that we’re still givng away for free.
How are you?

Of course, it probably helps that Moby doesn’t treat his fans like criminals.

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Comments on “Moby Shows (Again) That Free Music Doesn't Cannibalize Paid Music”

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Doctor Strange says:

Re: But..

You’ve shown correlation, but not causation.

Maybe the track was just the best or most popular one. Did people browsing the music on iTunes and buying it there know that there was a free copy available that they could download? It wasn’t exactly a controlled experiment:

1. You distribute it for money in a highly-visible place where people are searching for music, using an application that makes it trivially easy to download, organize the music and copy it to the world’s most popular digital audio player.

2. You put an MP3 of it on a backwater blog page on the artist’s personal site, which people have to download and import into their music manager manually.

If you had put the two right next to each other in iTunes, one “FREE” and one $1.29, you’d have a fairer comparison (and probably a bunch of confused consumers).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: But..

Causation isn’t necessary… the point is not to prove that people will pay for music that is available for free which would require causation, but the point is to to show that music that CAN be acquired for free does still sell. This only requires correlation which is very nicely shown here.

Moby has been giving tracks away for free for a very long time while still selling. He is not the only artist to do so. A trend is starting with artists giving away tracks on their email mailing lists which are also included on upcoming CD releases… and those tracks still sell as well.

The point (which is well made) is that I’m about to go give Moby some more of my money. And yes, I just downloaded his free track first.

Tristin (profile) says:

Added value

The point is well demonstrated that offering media for free does not automatically mean you will not make money, or even that you won’t be able to sell media. It is interesting to speculate on why someone would buy media that is available for free elsewhere.

Perhaps, as Dr. Strange suggests, the free track was placed in such an obscure location that the majority of people coming across the iTunes track didn’t know there was a free version available. This implies that people only paid for the iTunes track because they didn’t know there was a free alternative, and people will always choose free over not-free. If so, this is a reality that the media industries need to face. There will always be a free alternative in a world of infinite goods, and no amount of threatening, pleading, or lobbying will change that. Morals be damned, if that’s what you base your position on.

I think in the Moby case convenience has a lot to do with the iTunes success. Many people feel like $1 is worth getting the track instantly and directly into iTunes, rather than some of the circuitous methods of file-sharing.

Lastly, maybe people perceive paid copies as being of a higher quality than copies from the Pirate Palace. They just feel shiny and new, not like they’ve been passed around by everyone from Sweden to China. In reality that sort of thinking is ridiculous and clearly not based in fact. But many people don’t know as much about technology as readers of Techdirt, and their decisions are prone to be sentiment-based rather than fact-based.

Anyway, just some thoughts on the topic. Dr. Strange is very abrasive and confrontational, but at least he helps point out alternative explanations for events. I think they are wrong, but I’m glad I was able to figure out why.

Bethemediauk (profile) says:

Its simply attention

Isnt it simply that there are 1.3 billion net users and that attention is now currency ? Some people (most web users admittedly) want free content and some will pay as they want to support an artist or want as has been said previously in this thread a purchased file. The more people that hear a track and tell their friends and / or talk about it blog it the more you will sell.

Mechwarrior says:

People are taking this “causation” incorrectly. Causation would be if an action produces an effect. IE, putting out a free piece reduces earnings. In this cause, the causation is false, as the free piece had no impact on sales. Moby wasnt saying that he MUST put the song out for free or he WONT get sales. He was implying that putting the song up has no impact on sales.

To the people who say that a proper comparision is to put both a free and paid version on iTunes are adhering to a false dichotomy that these things need to be side by side. The point is that you dont need to, nor is it actually proving the point. Moby’s point is that given a pirated copy , the sales of that copy arent impacted by piracy. Putting a free one and a paid one in the same place doesnt represent your basic “piracy” scenario.

Xenju (profile) says:

Something Else Also

There was a special promo at Amazon offerring the entire Wait For Me album for $3.99, which comes out to $0.25 per song. One assumes that Amazon was able to make that sort of offer only with Moby or his label’s blessing. Bet they moved a lot of digits at that price point. I bought the album myself.

There is a price point out there where the law-abiding many will actually purchase digital music if it is also convenient. Amazon and Moby got the balance just about right. But alas, if you go to Amazon today, it costs $8.99. Too bad it wasn’t the permanent price point. It would have made a good statement.

the listener says:

Magicians Giving Away the Prestigue

Anyone who believes that more people will pay for music than download it free if given a legal choice- even from their favorite artist – is sorely deluded. The most loyal fans will take the free d/load and then buy the album if impressed with the free single. closer to the truth is that not everyone who bought the download was aware of the free option. The problem with this wilderness we are in at the moment where there is no set cookie cutter template to success every label (indie mainly)/DIY artist is quick to jump on the bandwagon of whatever the media report to be working. I can guarantee you that there was a portion (no matter how small) of those who bought the download that felt violated when they found out that a free option was available but unknown to them – obviously exacerbated in that feeling if they werent too satisfied with the track. what you have just succeeded in doing is fallen foul with a buying consumer/fan who will now be a “free-hunter” before any other purchase of your music. I guess the long and short of what I am saying is that there are things that are done on a business level – strategies, tactics, processes, protocol etc – that should remain privy to the business/artist/label and not necessarily daily news for the lay people/fans. Why? Simply put it influences buying behavior and not always in the right way. There are some consumers who never had a problem with buying, but now do because they heard of this “free” is the new model nonsense…. Don’t get me wrong free is good – when used properly. i.e strategically and has true value to the fans. Some artists can give away free all they want, they will never establish a following. Sorry.
Think about it, if i read an article saying how i bought what was free how can i not feel like a dunce? Its the reason why the music business models are changing – however slightly – more frequently than ever. monkey see, monkey do – without monkey comprehending the whole picture. then monkey modifies and comes unstuck and doesnt know how they ended up there. then monkey changes tree hoping for different outcome. Another example is the girl that sold 19k worth of merchandise in a single weekend or friday or whatever that was, and all of a sudden that is now common news to all and everyone is on twitter now trying it. missing the key point that this artist had long treated her fans like they were truly friends. giving them what they wanted – great music they could really enjoy that they valued. so they felt compelled to support her. but here comes johny come lately who now sets up a twitter account – not to engage his fans to really get to know them in a sense or at the least have a good generalisation of who they are, but to use every single tweet as a link to their store…. u squint eyed goon. ofcourse we know where your store is.,… who are you that we should buy though???? actually – do you know who we are? no – all u want is to sell 19k worth of merch. Er thanks mate but we will see you later… if you are lucky!
a little knowledge is dangerous. one good win with something doesnt make it the norm. if anything the underlying innovation should be the norm.
The only business model sound minded labels and/or DIY artists should be concerned about at this stage is actually very simple:
1) As labels, sign your artists to fair contracts that assure them reasonable compensation for their artistic talents – short and long term. Ensure they are covered in all necessary benefits, medicaid etc etc in other words treat them as more than just humans, but your own family. Then they will be freed up of all the issues, politics and stress/bad vibes, and then their energies can be spent creating beautiful music. As a precursor though, labels only sign true talent and not tv show rejects/socialites etc who have a bit of notoriety for some reason or another which isnt commensurate with their talent. Sign true talent and good attitudes – attitudes you would expect to see in your own kids i.e the very attitudes you instill in them and are acceptable to you. if knocking out the teeth of the postman every morning is acceptable behaviour to you then sure its ok to sign a singer who enjoys that. being on the same wavelength is key to good communication and subsequently good relationships. Once all these are checked, truly support them and work your backsides off to support them in ALL things. yes that lead singers constant headaches are your business (you might not agree) and should be thoroughly checked out by a doctor and not swept under a carpet because if he/she isnt nursed back to full health, how will they write another song for you? Inspire them to match your work ethic by being honest in all things with them and treating them well. Then together as a team map out a path agreeable to all parties that you wish to walk and follow that vision in unison and surely you will get there. if not there, then somewhere along the way that you can at least be comfortable with or at the very least proud of.
2) Artists, and please hear me on this one, AWAY WITH DIVA ANTIQUES!!!! grow up and throw out those lunatic delusions that to be successful/famous in music you have to be eccentric or borderline insane! The new rock star is different from the one you think…. The new rock star earns a more than decent but humble annual income from his true passion in life. He feels absolutely and totally rewarded and blessed that he has the opportunity to do what he loves and be able to be financially free doing it. He takes care of his family – and friend! – and has memorable tours with various experiences ranging from incidents with fans to collaborations with other artists for more unique offspring. He delights in how many more REAL artists he has in his circle of FRIENDS and goes home at the end of each tour with a surplus of ides for fresh new material, a healthy bank account and to a label homecoming party with family, friends and fans worthy of a prince. i.e a Bar-B Q out the back hehehe….
For the old rock stars – whos stars have all but disappeared, but we only call you that still because a bunch of mags still go on about what you once did (and we respect it – just to be clear in that), remember how honest the passion was when you first fell in love with music and how you would do anything to “get in”. Well, now that you are in, behave as someone who appreciates things. no one owes you anything. if this is what you dreamt for all your life, work like you are about to lose it, because realistically, YOU ARE!!!… with those stupid behaviours! work hard in all things – not just “your job”. i.e “no i cant help carry the kit in coz its not my job!!!!” listen here you cock-eyed baboon, you get your backside out of that limo – u know we cant afford it – and away from those groupies (your so called childhood sweetheart is waiting at home with your 3 month old son) – and get outside and help carry the kit you lazy git! Most important of All right good songs, songs that you yourself like to hear and know to be a good reflection of your own true artistic vision. focus on value – not cheap or free etc… trust me i love William Fitzsimmons so much that if he sold each digital download for 2 bucks i would buy em – 5 bucks even… ok maybe not 5. But seriously you know why I would buy? I value his music in my life. Simple isn’t it. Yet boardrooms full to the brim of overweight, overpaid, disproportianly aligned – mentally and physically – ancients who are still trying to find a mathematical formular for something that is not measured in dollars.

As an artis, Live he is unrivaled in his genre. he puts on such a great show it is indescribable in its intimacy. he connects with the crowd so intimately through his music i can assure you that how much we pay isnt an issue. its why we pay. we pay because we love it and we see the value.
once you establish value as both label and artist you only have to be creative in your marketing, promo and performance, and many more revenue generating avenues not even thought of yet even thought of yet will open up to you!!! and this will happen naturally do you know why? because u wont be focused on who did what on twitter or this new {insert social network of choice} killer competitor site that we must now all flock to and create new profiles adding to our 220 existant ones that are now full of gangster rappers threatening to blow our heads off (and their fans love em for that mind you *shudder*)…. instead, you will be driven by that most honorable desire that is of the same spirit to that passion that welled up in you when you first fell in love with music – creating songs that people just couldn’t live without. i.e value. yes. when you sang in front of the mirror you envisaged a crowd rocking with you right…. they loved you and you were the biggest act in the world right. and they sang every word right? well that, grass hopper, is because you knew even then as a child that you had to create songs people loved – funny how you forgot that on the road to riches ha!?!?. now you ask your A&R , who studied commerce and majored in tax law (but his dads friend gave him the job) if he thinks the song you wrote will sell…. how the creative have fallen. and similar to the decepticons, attempts at vengeance will be stifled.
Artists remain true to yourselves and regardless of the commercial success, know what you are good at and success will be met when the fans finally relate to you, fall in love with your story, share it with their friends and then see value enough to buy. dont be too greedy. dont envy selling 10 million albums. just work hard to get to 10k then build around that. get rid of this all so american urgency of “i want it now” – lol maybe the ‘now’ compilations influenced this…. yes its ok to desire millions. but prepare a long plan to earn those millions not “steal” them. A million earned feels like 10 million.
Sorry guys… its Friday afternoon down under and I had to vent to close the week off…. Om a more positive note thanks for the track Moby (no I didn’t get the free one and no I haven’t heard it yet, but I always buy your stuff coz I value it) but I know your fans appreciate it. Oh and to our American kinfolk Americans happy belated independence for the 4th…

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