News

NIN’s CC-Licensed Best-Selling MP3 Album

Fred Benenson, January 5th, 2009

NIN Best Selling MP3 AlbumNIN’s Creative Commons licensed Ghosts I-IV has been making lots of headlines these days.

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

Take a moment and think about that.

NIN fans could have gone to any file sharing network to download the entire CC-BY-NC-SA album legally. Many did, and thousands will continue to do so. So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked.

The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule, and point them here.

33 Responses to “NIN’s CC-Licensed Best-Selling MP3 Album”

  1. Neil Leyton says:

    On the contrary, using the CC license most likely increased the sales of this release.

    Just wondering, is the release registered with rights societies, and are the European ones any closer to recognizing the compatibility of the NC licenses with their membership agreements?

    Happy 2009,

    Neil Leyton

  2. That’s excellent news. Many people are still sceptical about the concept of free music, suspecting that there must be a catch somewhere. A CC licence is a boon to anyone who want to retain control over their free music but who wants to get it distributed and heard – and make money from it, should they choose to do so. CC is in the best tradition of the internet – it helps us to help each other.

    E.M. Forster was right! :)

  3. Wow, that’s great! I just hope that this reaches some people in charge and inspires them to finally change their strategies!

  4. The phenomenon is something that is really hard to explain since straight economics would never be able to predict the outcome for NIN and Radiohead’s experiments. I blogged about this a few weeks ago and explained why the model can work for some, but not for all and why the entire industry wasn’t flipped upside down because of these two outliers.

    http://enoughcowbell.com/2008/12/18/radiohead-says-in-rainbows-experiment-is-a-success-will-it-work-for-all-part-2-of-2/

  5. Let’s hope Radiohead – and others – take it further in ’09 ..
    RHs experiment was interesting mainly because they are who they are. Knowing their fans and understanding how the internet works, the outcome was pretty predictable. I don’t know NIN or Radiohead’s motivation, but NIN’s model shows us that courage pays off.

  6. Matt blizel says:

    I bought the album on vinyl and digital release for the fact that no record company could ever benefit from this…

  7. Frederik Olsen says:

    I personally bought it because I liked what I heard from Ghosts I (the freebie), it was cheap and I knew I was supporting Trent directly. Same thing with NiggyTardust and The Slip – I bought the latter physically.

    Hopefully this will have some influence on the way these corporations are run, but I doubt it. The industry is far too conservative. In my opinion, the hope lies with smaller, independent companies or the artists themselves.

  8. Court says:

    Though I am optimistic about this and Radiohead’s success and others such as Cory Doctorow in writing, I do wonder how much this has to do with being famous in the first place, or at least net-famous. It remains to be seen whether someone can rise from obscurity to some sort of money-making fame on the back of free downloads, with or without a pay-for component.

    Or are there examples I don’t know of?

  9. I can only agree that this is great news. Hopefully this example will encourage other to do the same. For many bands a similar model would be a great alternative.

    If you are interested in the business model behinds this, I blog about it here: http://www.freemium.eu

  10. tgpo says:

    This is great news for fans and artists alike.

    As fans, we can feel closer to the artists and see that we directly make contributions to them and their continued success.

    As artists, you can begin to cut out the middle man who has has a strangle hold not only on your returns, but also on your creative control. This will free you to make music exactly how you envision it, thus causing fans to further support you.

    It’s a great system when the suits are out of the picture.

    -tgpo
    http://www.tgpo.org

  11. Gabe says:

    Great album. I bought it because of the convenience of the NIN website. It got me hooked when I downloaded the first 9 tracks (which are free of charge on NIN.com). After I saw how clean and fast a download it was, I decided to throw in $5 ($5!!) for the entire album. Saved me a lot more time than downloading it from the Pirate Bay.

  12. Liam Beale says:

    All i can say is congratulations to Trent for his bravery in taking the leap in doing something so brave, who’d of thought a four part, instrumental album would be the Number 1 MP3 album on Amazon, of all sites?!

    I think this is the biggest middle finger Trent could ever have against the record industry and it’s awesome.

  13. nympholept says:

    I’m glad this article makes it abundantly clear that the entire Ghosts I-IV is free.

    So many people miss that simple fact.

  14. David says:

    This is very cool news. Unfortunately you’re not going to convince the RIAA folks. They will just use the huge number of free downloads to point out how much more you could have sold on Amazon if it wasn’t free elsewhere.

  15. Jessica says:

    Gabe’s comment highlights one of the main points about the future of downloading which the NIN example brings out.

    It’s not about making it illegal to share something, it’s about making it easier to get it from a paid source, and cheap enough that people will pay for that convenience.

    After all, we all buy bottled water. It’s just about giving people an incentive to pay you something.

    Girltalk does this well, too.

  16. Dominic T says:

    I purchased the special edition of Ghosts I-IV, and have also purchased Niggy Tardust and The Slip, in my ridiculous fan-boy support of Nine Inch Nails.

    Yes, while a CC-license did not hinder (and may have helped, who knows for sure) the sales of this work, what this proves is that Trent, or someone in his inner circle, is unbelievably good at marketing.

    I’m sure that someone will respond to this post with a negative tone, but i’m not saying that this intelligent marketing was, or is, in any way, a bad thing.

    I congratulate Nine Inch Nails for effectively widening their fanbase tenfold by showing that they understand internet culture.

  17. [...] start-ups like Google and eBay to lower their transaction costs. Joi then discusses some of the successes CC has seen in the last year, making for an great overview of what CC has been up to and where we are [...]

  18. [...] like Google and eBay to lower their transaction costs and innovate. Joi then discusses some of the successes CC has seen in the last year, making for an great overview of what CC has been up to and where we are [...]

  19. splitsch says:

    Hello everyone !
    I’m working for Sabam (the belgian equivalent to PRS for Music), and I’m truely interrested in the way NIN managed to deal with Creative Commons and Collective rights management !

    Is there anyone that could help me to understand how they did? How they abstract this album from the collective right management PRS, or Sabam, or Sacem, or any other Collective Right management incorporation did ?

    Was it a ponctual thing? Or did they go far from any collective right management societies ?

    Thank you for your answer !

  20. oyunlar says:

    It is crucial to understand that artists are skilled in producing art – not copies.

    Printers are the ones who produce copies.

    So, pay the artist for their art.

    The market for copies has ended, because everyone can make their own.

    If you can make your own copies why pay anyone else for them? Printers may well be unhappy to lose their monopoly, and artists would be misguided to believe they can sell copies where printers cannot, but the artist remains the only one who can produce the art, and their audience those who want to pay them.

  21. oyunlar, you are welcome to copy my published work, and you need not attribute it except when through omission this constitutes misattribution, as has occurred here.

    Your comment reposts one of mine as if authored by yourself:

    http://www.lessig.org/blog/2009/01/re_nin_best_selling_cc-license.html#comment-68449

    Tellingly, you omitted a little identifying link:
    “For further discussion of this see: http://digitalproductions.co.uk

  22. I have gotten many comments from people telling me that it is a bad idea to give away my music under creative commons.

    This just confirms all the positive experiences I have had with doing that!

  23. Promosyon says:

    It is crucial to understand that artists are skilled in producing art – not copies.

    Printers are the ones who produce copies.

    So, pay the artist for their art.

    The market for copies has ended, because everyone can make their own.

    If you can make your own copies why pay anyone else for them? Printers may well be unhappy to lose their monopoly, and artists would be misguided to believe they can sell copies where printers cannot, but the artist remains the only one who can produce the art, and their audience those who want to pay them.

    I agree.

  24. I bought the album on vinyl and digital release for the fact that no record company could ever benefit from this…

  25. Film İzle says:

    It is crucial to understand that artists are skilled in producing art – not copies.

    Printers are the ones who produce copies.

    So, pay the artist for their art.

    The market for copies has ended, because everyone can make their own.

    ı agree

  26. I congratulate Nine Inch Nails for effectively widening their fanbase tenfold by showing that they understand internet culture.

  27. chicago replacement windows says:

    i never bought any of those cds but now i think i should. with teeth was so great but the cd following wasn’t as good. but congrats for nin on this.

  28. wow says:

    Great album. I bought it because of the convenience of the NIN website. It got me hooked when I downloaded the first 9 tracks (which are free of charge on NIN.com). After I saw how clean and fast a download it was, I decided to throw in $5 ($5!!) for the entire album. Saved me a lot more time than downloading it from the Pirate Bay.

  29. i never bought any of those cds but now i think i should. with teeth was so great but the cd following wasn’t as good. but congrats for nin on this.

  30. I understand the culture of the internet shows that ten times as efficient as their fanbase to extend congratulations to Nine Inch Nails.

  31. ben 10 games says:

    I can only assume this is great news. I hope this example will encourage others the same thing. For many groups, a similar model will be a great alternative.

  32. Amazon Blog says:

    I am looking for it but I think I can get it from the NIN website. I really wanted to download the tracks that is offering.