Black Collar Workers



Niggy TardustIn a recent post on his blog, Nine Inch Nails frontman/onlyman Trent Reznor revealed the sales figures of the recent Saul Williams album which he produced and then released to the public via the Radiohead “pay what you wish” model (sort of – it was either free for 192k mp3s or $5 for higher quality files). The results:

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

After the jump, Trent Reznor admits mild disappointment, but takes a very progressive outlook on the other benefits that may have been gleaned from the tactic. Plus, our analysis:

Keep in mind not one cent was spent on marketing this record. The only marketing was Saul and myself talking as loudly as we could to anybody that would listen.
If 33,897 people went out and bought Saul’s last record 3 years ago (when more people bought CDs) and over 150K – five times as many – sought out this new record, that’s great – right?
I have to assume the people knowing about this project must either be primarily Saul or NIN fans, as there was very little media coverage outside our direct influence. If that assumption is correct – that most of the people that chose to download Saul’s record came from his or my own fan-base – is it good news that less than one in five feel it was worth $5? I’m not sure what I was expecting but that percentage – primarily from fans – seems disheartening.
Add to that: we spent too much (correction, I spent too much) making the record utilizing an A-list team and studio, Musicane (sic) fees, an old publishing deal, sample clearance fees, paying to give the record away (bandwidth costs), and nobody’s getting rich off this project.

Saul’s music in in more people’s iPods than ever before and people are interested in him. He’ll be touring throughout the year and we will continue to get the word out however we can.

So – if you’re an artist looking to utilize this method of distribution, make of these figures what you will and hopefully this info is enlightening.


So, 18.3% paid for the record. $5 times 28,322 = $141,610. Not bad considering no money was spent on marketing, but I guess they spent that amount or more on recording costs. It stands to reason that in an age when anyone can make a pretty good sounding recording on software that comes with any Mac, that the day of big-budget producers and studios is OVER. If Reznor and Williams had done this on the cheap, they would have had themselves a nice little payout.

Is “pay what you wish” a feasible business model? Would this not have been possible if a high-profile musician hadn’t been involved? Whether or not you think so, you have to hand it to Reznor for trying something new and continuing to look to and embrace the future.


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