There’s already a lot of commentary on the fact that Nine Inch Nails topped Amazon MP3 Album sales for 2008, despite the fact the first nine tracks of the album had already been released by the band for free under a Creative Commons licence.
And the fact that vinyl album sales doubled in 2008, hitting a 17 year record of 1.88 million in 2008.
As Matt Mason points out, both examples show that ‘the physical souvenir of a digital idea still has value‘, and legitimate purchasing is becoming easier and more cost effective – for instance, Apple dropping DRM from iTunes and introducing variable pricing (although you’ll have to pay to remove DRM from tracks you already own). Om Malik nicely outlines the reasons why even the bonus from that DRM removal isn’t necessarily a good thing for the music industry – mainly because the three-tiered pricing structure being introduced could lead to more people expecting music for less.
And analysts are backing the idea that mobile music has to be free, for example.
Are there answers?
Going slightly further than Matt, I’d say buying an album already available for free, or investing in vinyl, shows something more than the benefits of better legitimate music stores or physical souvenirs.
I’d say it’s a direct result of passion.
The people most likely to download and spread NiN’s Ghosts I-IV are the passionate fans of the band. The people downloading from Amazon were aware of the album but either didn’t want to make do with the nine free tracks, didn’t want to download directly, or, possibly wanted to spread the word by purchasing via Amazon and propelling NiN up the charts.
Meanwhile to be a vinyl consumer you have to find a record player (hard to do offline outside of specialist hifi shops), invest in needles and fluff removers, and actively seek out releases.
But what paying for NiN or vinyl does, is it elevates you from those people enjoying music as a diversion or convenient entertainment – it makes you someone who displays there passion for the band or format.
You don’t just like NiN enough to listen or download for free – You love them enough to pay $300 for the limited edition ultra-deluxe box set, and then buy the songs again via Amazon to promote them.
You don’t just have a convenient CD of new dance music or classic soul – you have the original vinyl with the ritual of selecting it from your shelf, sliding out the album carefully, putting it onto your record deck, and gently lowering the needle with the precision of a surgeon.
And anyone who witnesses either act is left within no doubt of your passion – and those who share it instantly mark you as one of their own. You’re not just a fan, you’re an Otaku.
It’s what sells a lot of products. For instance, the Halo Xbox game spawned two sequels, limited editions box sets, and a forthcoming strategy game.
- Plus a table-top miniatures game.
- The soundtrack CD for each game, plus a collection of the trilogy
- 5 printed books
- A graphic novel
- A four-part comic book series
- Canvas Art
- Vinyl Figures
- Controllers and headsets
- Graphics to customise your console
- Plus downloadable content to add to the original physical version, and customise your console dashboard
Then add in the derivatives:
- Machima, such as Red vs Blue, which has it’s own DVDs, clothing and collectibles.
- Halo costumes for Halloween or conventions.
- And all sorts of other stickers and clothing from other retailers.
Now, how could you be a ‘real’ Halo fan if you just had a standard copy of the game? That won’t help you connect with other real fans, given 20 million copies of the series have been sold.
To show to other people you’re a ‘real’ Halo fan, you’ve got to have queued for the midnight release of the game, and have a sealed Limited Edition version. You’ve got to have the sountracks. At least one figurine of the Master Chief. A few of the books. Maybe a T-shirt.
After all, none of this is new!
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