Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor released the band‘s (OK, his) new album this week in suitably experimental fashion. Theorizing that fans would be willing to pay extra for additional content, Reznor made the record, Ghosts I-IV, available in several varieties via his website.
The basic package is free: nine songs from the album in a DRM-free MP3 format. For $5, fans get the full album in a handful of unrestricted formats, including two lossless options (that’s CD quality, kids). For $10, you get actual hard copies of the album spread over two discs. A $75 “pledge” scores you a Blu-Ray disc with a slideshow and stereo mix, while super-fans who shell out 300 bucks receive a deluxe vinyl version and three hardback books.
This isn’t Reznor‘s first foray into unconventional release formats. Last year, he put portions of the last NIN album on USB flash-drives, which were hidden in public restrooms for fans to find and distribute through file-sharing sites. And he produced Saul Williams? The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, which was released for free or for $5 in a higher-quality format.
Although sales figures aren’t available yet, the servers were swamped when we tried to download the $5 version. When we finally did manage to get through, there was some trouble with the .zip file. So the system still has a few kinks, but we‘re sure Reznor has his best geeks on it.
It remains to be seen whether NIN can match the success of Radiohead’s In Rainbows venture. The “pay-or-not” model didn‘t work out particularly well for Saul Williams, as only 18% of the 150,000 people who downloaded the album paid for it. Reznor even went on record with his disappointment over sales.
Unconventional releases like this seem to work best for big-name bands with loyal followings. Fans can typically count on quality product (or at least the comfort of the familiar), so there’s less risk in shelling out money for what might already be available on illegal peer-to-peer sites. There‘s some serious doubt whether this model would work for a lesser-known band with a smaller fanbase. As interesting as these experiments are, they probably tell us more about mass popularity than the future of the music business.
What do you think?