As we reported yesterday, Nine Inch Nails has followed the Radiohead example and is giving the music away for free. Not all of it, but nine of the thirty six tracks from Trent Reznor's instrumental LP Ghosts I-IV are available for free, with a PDF thrown in. The other 27, in higher quality bitrate or lossless format, cost just $5.
And as with Radiohead, the act was welcomed.
"I'm off to buy a copy. I haven't heard it yet, but I like a lot of their stuff, so $5 doesn't seem like to much [sic] for a punt. Wow again," gushes one Andrew Meredith on our Comments.
"I think anyone who makes music people actually like, should take note and could do the same," advises reader Mark.
"Way to go Trent," says another. "Wonderful! We need more of this, cutting out the parasitical middle man gets my support every time. "
So surely setting a price of $5 for the equivalent of a 4-CD release, with goodies, is cheap enough to lure civic-minded citizens away from the P2P networks?
Despite this throat-cutting gesture, Reznor's sprawling instrumental release is going gangbusters on the world's torrent trackers. Pirate Bay has eight thousand concurrent downloads at time of writing, divided fairly evenly between the "free" release and a 320kbit/s bitrate version of the package.
Heavy traffic on PirateBay for Reznor's new release
Rather than pay a measly five bucks, "freetards" are filling their boots. By our very rough estimate, based on watching the traffic and turnover, PirateBay alone has deprived Reznor of around $160,000 income in the past 12 hours. If that's sustained, by the end of the week, the P2P zombies will have set him back a cool $2m.
"Way to go, Trent!"
Now maybe Reznor is a wealthy fellow, and can afford this kind of leakage. And leakage always occurs - the true monetary return from a recording will always fall short of its full potential, because fans pass round tapes to friends. Just as home taping didn't kill music, not every P2P download represents a lost purchase.
But you'd have to be very rich indeed, or have suicidal tendencies (no Goth jokes, please) to keep burning through this kind of money. So why have the P2P users rewarded Reznor, who's offered the fans a bargain, with a kick in the teeth?
Partly, you may argue, it's because he failed to use the internet infrastructure wisely. If his new CD went on sale in just one store in one town in the USA, you'd expect there to be congestion in the shopping mall. As The Register's Dan Goodin noted last night, the downloads from Reznor's official site were trickling out at 10kbit/s. From the Torrent swarm, you get the music at between 450kbit/s and 550kbit/s, or fifty times faster. The high quality bitrate version takes just 15 minutes to acquire.
But undeniably there's a hard core of users who just won't pay for music. A better guide to the psychology of these users can be found in the comments to Chris Williams' analysis of Three Strikes, where a fascinating argument unfolds. For perhaps the first time at El Reg, the social cost of "leeching" is discussed. (I can't remember "leeching" used outside a narrow technical context, and as a general purpose pejorative.)
It's almost as if some rage virus, like the one that infected people in the 28 Days movies, has infected a proportion of the population.
The anti-copyright crowd kicked at the music business, because it was complacent, wasteful and reactionary, and no digital download services were available. Then they kicked at DRM-locked music, because DRM was there. Then DRM died, and they'd indiscriminately kick at the music business - indie or major - simply because there was a middleman. But now, with no middleman, they just kick the creator directly. They can't stop kicking. These zombies are unstoppable. Are they incurable, too?
(Let me know. Answers on a sterilised postcard, please.)
As for the economics of digital distribution, it looks a busted flush. Maybe Trent Reznor hasn't cracked net distribution at all. Maybe, with the current internet as it is, there's as much of a business in selling music online in chunks as there is for selling standalone crossword puzzles on street corners.
[But then that isn't the only way of getting paid for sound recordings. We don't pay for our gym by dropping quarters into the treadmill every five minutes...] ®