Saturday, January 05, 2008

The $5 LP

I just paid for my copy of Saul Williams' excellent album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust. I was reminded to do this by an editorial by the album's producer and evangelist Trent Reznor, in which he quoted the exact figures for the album's "sales".

Like In Rainbows, Niggy Tardust was available as a potentially free download, although it carried a suggested price tag of $5. Since I'd never heard of Williams before, I opted at the time to pay nothing for my my download, despite the slight ticking-off I got from the site. Seems harsh, but there's just so much music out there. However, the record is great, and clearly I'm not the only person who thought so because it quickly rose to the top of's "Artist Hype List" for that week.

Reznor's analysis, though, is a little bleak. He begins with the facts:

“Saul's previous record was released in 2004 and has sold 33,897 copies.

As of 1/2/08,

154,449 people chose to download Saul's new record.

28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning:

18.3% chose to pay.

Of those paying,

3220 chose 192kbps MP3

19,764 chose 320kbps MP3

5338 chose FLAC”

He assumes that most of those downloading the album were fans either of Saul Williams or of Nine Inch Nails, citing a lack of press coverage for the event. But, ironically I guess, it seems even Reznor underestimates the power of the 'net. As someone who takes an interest in digital music generally, but not NIN-related stuff in particular, I saw references to this experiment in several places and took a happy chance on downloading it.

What I read from these figures is a fivefold increase in interest in Saul Williams' music, and would assume that most of the extra listeners are newcomers, rather than people who already liked it, but not quite enough to buy the previous record on CD. (Of course we have no figures on how many people may have downloaded that album for free.)

David Gretton has the insightful suggestion that a follow-up email should have been sent to all us freeloaders, asking us if we liked the album and suggesting making a payment if we did. This is such a great idea it should be baked into the newly-emerging business model. People expect to try before they buy - good thing that they can, given the amount there is to try - but there's no harm in reminding them about the "before you buy" part.

But I strongly disagree with David's belief that there is little price resistance in the album market and that $5 is too low. If the suggested donation had been $15 I don't think I would have gone back and paid; I'd want physical product for that. To be fair, what he actually said was "fans are price insensitive" (my emphasis), although even that is a stretch. (I am still wincing over the £40 cost of my - admittedly lovely - Radiohead box.) But times have changed, and not everyone with a copy of your music is a fan. Yet. The great majority who have yet to make up their minds, and have increasingly large amounts of storage space to fill, are very price sensitive indeed.

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