As many people may already know, I am a big fan of the band Nine Inch Nails, aka NIN, which is basically Trent Reznor and whomever he hires to work and perform with him at any given time. Earlier in the week, Trent posted that a new album was available, titled “Ghosts I-IV” (volumes one through four). Not even “coming soon,” but available right now. Being a fan, I was naturally psyched about this and went to find out how I could get a copy right now.

Eventually I succumbed and bought the $300 super ultra deluxe edition that comes with four LP’s, two CD’s, one DVD, one Blu-Ray, an art book, ready-to-frame-and-hang art, and Trent’s signature. Plus it’s a limited edition with only 2500 copies. Hey, I need to use those Paint.NET donations for something, right?

The real story here is not that NIN has a new album, but rather in the way that it is being distributed. The music has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license. Anyone who gets a copy of it has the freedom to make further copies and derivative works (e.g., remixes), as long as they give proper attribution and don’t make any money off of it. You can even download the album for free. They provide direct download links for 1/4th of the tracks, but with that license there’s nothing wrong with distributing or downloading the rest of the album if you find it elsewhere. Trent himself even uploaded those tracks to PirateBay* with a note saying:

“Undoubtedly you’ll be able to find the complete collection on the same torrent network you found this file, but if you’re interested in the release, we encourage you to check it out at ghosts.nin.com, where the complete Ghosts I-IV is available directly from us in a variety of DRM-free digital formats, including FLAC lossless, for only $5.”

Let’s take a step back though, first. The music industry is in a jam because 1) everyone is pirating music (PirateBay, LimeWire, BearShare, etc.), and 2) everyone hates DRM. Oh, and 3) all those lawsuits are making everybody hate them (the RIAA). The majority of people don’t care about paying for most of their music, but those who are willing to pay for it are getting punched in the face with the restrictions that DRM imposes. And even if you buy the CD, only a small percentage of what you pay actually reaches the artist who created the music in the first place. It’s really a lose-lose situation for everyone except the CEO’s of the record companies.

Recently, Trent announced that he is now free and independent of any record label contract, after fulfilling his obligation for a certain number of albums with the “Year Zero Remixed” disc. So, he can now do whatever the heck he wants to, business-wise. He has decided that he will take advantage of the freshly-crowned, most popular method for distributing music: rampant piracy! Except in this case it isn’t pirating because he’s intending people to distribute it this way. He’s getting new fans for free this way, and those fans will find other ways to send him money: concert tickets, t-shirts, and other “non-pirateable” goods. And without a record label as an intermediary, more of that cash goes into his pocket, which is exactly what we want!

It will be interesting to see how well this business model and experiment works out. The real test, however, will be whether this model will work for any other band, especially one that isn’t so widely known.

Also worth noting is that this is basically the business model that Paint.NET has been using for the last few years :) Except that I do not [yet?] have any cool deluxe or limited editions for sale. Hmm, I wonder how much an autographed CD of Paint.NET would go for …

* “Uploaded these tracks to PirateBay” is actually a strong misnomer with the way BitTorrent technology works. But you get the idea.

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