The band Nine Inch Nails has reportedly released parts of their new album for people to download free of charge using BitTorrent.
"ghosts i - iv" is the name of the album and according to reports, the free release was such a hit, that the band's web site server crashed repeatedly.
Since being released from its major-label recording contract last year, Nine Inch Nails has joined the growing ranks of prominent artists who are navigating the digital wilderness on their own. Like another independent-minded act, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails has responded to the wash of free music on the Internet, but with its own tactic: the band has uploaded tracks from its new album directly to an unauthorized file-sharing network even as it offered more elaborate versions for up to $300.
The plan, which was announced on the Nine Inch Nails Web site, nin.com, on Sunday night, is the latest in a running series of experiments that counter the music industry's typical sales and marketing tactics. Fans can obtain digital downloads of the first nine tracks from the 36-track instrumental collection, "Ghosts I-IV," and a bundle of graphics free from the band's Web site or through the online network BitTorrent (bittorent.net), where users can share unauthorized music and other media.
The band, which is led by Trent Reznor, described file sharing in one online post as "a revolutionary digital distribution method, and we believe in finding ways to utilize new technologies instead of fighting them."
Mr. Reznor also afforded fans freedom in another way. The band decided to offer the music with a Creative Commons license, a new type of intellectual-property copyright. It allows creators to reserve certain rights and, in effect, authorize various unpaid uses of their products. In this instance the band is allowing virtually any noncommercial use of its music. The band is also testing a tiered pricing system that could add a new wrinkle to the conventional wisdom on how to attract fans in the music business, in which a slump in sales has prompted Wal-Mart and other retailers to pressure record companies to cut their wholesale prices. The Nine Inch Nails plan also expands upon a model that had been tested by a handful of other acts, like Radiohead, which offered its latest album, "In Rainbows," online in a setup that allowed fans to name their own price (including nothing) or pay roughly $80 for an expanded version.
Nine Inch Nails is offering a digital download of the entire 36-track "Ghosts I-IV" collection for a flat $5 from its site and Amazon.com. The band will offer a CD version in a two-disc package for $10, with sales through its site or through record shops starting April 8. (A $39 vinyl version will be available the same day.) For particularly enthusiastic - or deep-pocketed - fans, there are two more extensive collections: a $75 version will include the music on two CDs, and a DVD will contain data files of the multitrack recordings of the 36 songs, allowing fans to remix and alter the music as they choose. A $300 deluxe version - the band said only 2,500 will be made, all with Mr. Reznor's signature - will include the discs, the vinyl set and additional material.
Jim Guerinot, the manager of Nine Inch Nails, suggested that the band's plans are not "a reaction to what doesn't exist today. I think it's more just like, 'Hey, in a vacuum I can do whatever I want to do.' " Referring to Mr. Reznor, he said, "His appetite is such that: 'I want a little bit of everything. I'm not content with just a singular experience.' "
One option Mr. Reznor is not offering fans is a way to obtain the entire collection free. Last year he produced an album by the rapper and poet Saul Williams, which was offered online free or for a $5 contribution in a test of whether people would pay if given a choice. Mr. Reznor wrote on his band's Web site that he had been disheartened by the lack of paying customers.
Internet Lessons from Nine Inch Nails and Obama
Most business execs probably aren't familiar with Trent Reznor's angst-filled industrial rock. But they could learn a lot from the Nine Inch Nails frontman's experiments with online business models. Last year, Reznor released two versions of an album on the Web: One which fans could download for free and a higher-quality version that cost $5. More than five times as many people opted for the free version, leaving Reznor disappointed.
But rather than abandoning online distribution, Reznor rethought his model. This past weekend, he surprised fans by releasing a new album on his Web site. This time fans have five distinct options, including a free downloadable version which only contains nine songs, a $5 downloadable version with 36 songs, and a $300 version that comes with autographed vinyl records.
Proving again that he's willing to experiment with new ways of marketing his music - last summer Reznor hid USB drives with an unreleased song in the bathrooms at his concerts - he personally loaded some of his new songs onto an underground filing-trading service.
Another person who businesses could learn something about the Internet from is Senator Barack Obama. "His Web site is amazing," Rishad Tobaccowala, chief innovation officer for a division of advertising giant Publicis, tells Fortune. Tobaccowala says the way Obama uses his site to engage followers is particularly innovative. For example, he's willing to embrace messages that didn't originate with his inner circle. When the band Black Eyed Peas posted a video about Obama on the Internet, he quickly decided to run it on his homepage.
Last Friday's Journal had another example: The Obama campaign has made available its database of supporters to anyone who wants access to the information. While some bad seeds have misused the information, it's also empowered local volunteers to make calls on their own, greatly expanding the number of people working for the campaign.