Not long after Radiohead offered their new album In Rainbows through their website for whatever fans wanted to pay, Nine Inch Nails’ frontman Trent Reznor took a similar approach with a new album he produced by hip-hop artist Saul Williams. The response was relatively lacklustre, however, with less than 20 per cent of those who downloaded the tracks paying even $5 for them, and from some of the interviews he gave about the experiment, it sounded as though Reznor wasn’t all that happy with the way things turned out.
The singer/songwriter hasn’t pulled back from experimenting with Web releases, however — in fact, just the opposite. In March, he released a new instrumental album called Ghosts I-IV as a combination download and physical product; fans could opt for a series of offerings, all the way from mp3 tracks at $5 to a deluxe package for $300, which included signed cover art. Even though nine of the tracks were released for free through the BitTorrent network, more than 2,500 bought the deluxe version and Reznor said he made $1.6-million.
In gratitude, the NIN frontman has released his latest album, In Slip, as a free download. A message on the download site says “As a thank you to our fans for your continued support, we are giving away the new Nine Inch Nails album one hundred percent free.” The album can also be streamed through iLike (something R.E.M. also did with their latest album). Radiohead, meanwhile, said recently that the “pay what you want” release of In Rainbows — which Reznor criticized as “insincere” and a “bait-and-switch tactic” — was “a one-off” and won’t be repeated.
My friend David Usher, a musician who writes a blog about social media at CloudID, says Radiohead and Trent Reznor have the resources to do whatever they want with their music, but that doesn’t really help up and coming artists find a new business model.