That Ain't Workin'

Wednesday March 05, 2008
I'm a big fan of Nine Inch Nails.  Not quite to the degree of buying every Halo, but I have a number of his albums.  So of course I've been intrigued by his latest offering.  Today, while looking at Nine Inch Nails "Ghosts I-IV' website, I noticed an interesting bit of information:
We have SOLD OUT of the 2500 Limited Edition Packages.
My great-uncle is fond of a saying.  "It is better to be rich and healthy than to be poor and sick."  Seeing this, I was reminded of it.  It's not quite as catchy, but it's better to be customer-friendly and a huge success than reviled as corrupt and a failure.

The music and movie industries have been telling us for the last few years that digital restrictions are required in order to save their businesses from destruction.  Well, Mr. Reznor has proven them wrong quite dramatically.  Before I continue, let me address an obvious objection up front - I realize he's a superstar.  However, the spokespeople for the RIAA that support their claims are also superstars: Lars Ulrich is hardly a starving artist laboring in obscurity.   I'm not saying everyone can do what he did, only that the people who are already rich in the music industry can continue to be rich without the bullshit that they claim is critical.

The "Limited Edition", for those of you not up on the latest NIN happenings, is a three hundred dollar version of the album, containing a bunch of extras and a signature from Mr. Reznor himself.  The full album, in lossless, non-restricted format, costs five dollars.  There were 2500 copies of the limited edition.

Let me emphasize for those of you who might not be quite as up on the terminology that "lossless" formats (which NIN is selling for $5 here) are the highest quality format that it is possible to distribute over the internet.  Other music producers, out of fear for eating their CD revenues, have mostly refused to provide digital copies of their music of this quality.

Also, to compare pricing: Apple typically charges 99¢ for a DRM-free song: it's not lossless, but it's 256kbps, which is fairly high quality.  (I would not believe it if someone told me they could hear the difference, but there is a marginal difference in the perception of value here.)  There are 36 songs on "Ghosts".  $5 is roughly 14% of $35.64.

So now that I've established that NIN is selling higher quality goods, in a customer-friendly way, for a fraction of the price of the competition, let's do some math:
  • march 6, today,
  • minus the march 4th (the date that the "ghosts" website became fully operational (according to wikipedia),
  • is two days, times
  • 2500 copies
  • times 300 dollars
Trent has now proven that if you are a superstar, you can make three quarters of a million dollars in two days, on a ridiculously expensive premium edition alone.  This is to say nothing of the people who bought, and continue to buy, the $75 version, the $10 version, or the $5 version.  This says nothing of the people who are buying it through Amazon.

Coincidentally, it also proves that you don't need any RIAA thugs to help you do this, or "market" your work, assuming people already know who you are.  You just need a web server, and a swimming pool big enough to put a million dollars.