This seems to be a real music-blogging day for some reason — first there was the RIAA vs. Washington Post post, then the Sony-DRM post, and now we have some stats from indie music darling Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails about his experiment with offering a “pay what you want” album for download. Not long after Radiohead launched its In Rainbows download, Reznor announced his intention to release an album by rapper Saul Williams (which Reznor produced) in the same fashion.
So how did it go? Mixed at best, it seems. Unlike Radiohead, which hasn’t said anything about how many people downloaded or paid for its album (apart from saying that the estimates from comScore were wrong), Reznor has provided detailed numbers, and it appears that less than 20 per cent of the people who downloaded the album paid for it.
As Mark Hopkins notes at Mashable, there are a whole bunch of reasons why this might be, including the fact that Saul Williams isn’t exactly a household name, that he and Trent Reznor don’t exactly have huge crossover appeal with each other’s audience, and so on. There’s no question that a “pay what you want” strategy is likely to work better for an artist with a solid, dedicated community, such as Radiohead.
That said, however, Saul Williams still got more than 150,000 people to listen to his album (compared with about 33,000 for his previous album) and got almost 30,000 of those who downloaded it to pay $5. Reznor says that after paying for the studio time and engineers and so on, no one is “getting rich” from the download experiment — but when did that become the sole motivation for making music? Chris “Long Tail” Anderson has some thoughts here.