It is a hard time for the record industry. They are seeing their profits minimized by illegal file sharing and less people are willing to buy their CDs. Many of them try to counter this by the age old capitalistic idea of “if people are buying less merchandise, we will make them pay for what they buy.” The problem is that because the content is available for free on the Internet, this tactic will only scare off more and more buyers.
Recording artists seem to be more aware of what is going on. In the past year alternative rock god Radiohead and industrial-rock giant Nine Inch Nails have both released their albums on the internet for free or a small fee. For Radiohead this release was In Rainbows, which was available for any price you wished to pay. Unfortunately, they have not released any Internet sales numbers. However, the physical release of In Rainbows sold 122,000 copies in the UK during its first week.
Similar figures for Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV and The Slip exist. Ghosts I-IV, which was released in several different formats, including a free download of the first 9 tracks (Ghosts I) and the full package for 5 USD. Then the price went up through several different versions with extras, ending in a 300 USD limited edition boxset, which was handsigned, numbered and contained a vinyl pressing of the album, next to the CD. Nine Inch Nails reported over 750,000 download and purchase transactions within the first week. The 2,500 limited boxsets sold out immediately as well, generating 750,000 USD of the total 1.6 million USD in the first week. The second Nine Inch Nails album to be released to the Internet, The Slip, has been downloaded 1.6 million times during its first two months.
Next to huge bands, who are more able to take a risk, a lot of small bands are taking their songs to the internet. Rapper Saul Williams released his second album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust on the Internet with the help of Nine Inch Nails’ front man Trent Reznor. A free version and a 5 USD version were available. After two months, almost 160,000 people downloaded the album, 28,000 people choosing to pay. Compared to the 30,000 copies Williams’ debut album sold since 2004 this is a huge increase in popularity for the rapper.
It seems that the Internet is becoming the new record store. A lot of bands put their music for listen on sites like Myspace and Last.fm. Dutch band Silence Is Sexy released their second album, This Ain’t Hollywood, on the illegal file sharing market recently. Singer/songwriter Jonah Matranga has let people pay what they want for his merchandise since the late nineties.
The examples are endless. Illegal file sharing is turning more and more into a place where bands can showcase their new material. Many bands put their albums up on illegal sites, for fans to download. If this is going to continue, we might soon see the record industry adapting to these changes, or go down with the ship. Free downloads generate much attention. More people are likely to buy the physical release of the downloaded material, or go and see the band on tour.
We are at the advent of a new musical revolution. This time the grass of Woodstock is exchanged for the meadows of the Internet and the motto has changed from Free Love to Free Music.