Free Music Is Not A Marketing Strategy

I feel like a zealous evangelist saying this, but the whole point of providing a free option on music distribution is to let more people hear your music, not to sell more of the non-free stuff. It’s a business model, not a marketing strategy.

Some of you might say there is no difference. And you might be right in practical terms. But there are different levels of commitment, and Coldplay is going to fall short the same way Radiohead did.

Once Radiohead’s In Rainbows hit stores, the pay-what-you-want website went away. It was an experiment – a very profitable one to all appearances – and once done, they retreated to the comfort of wanting you to buy a physical CD. During the experiment, it seemed rather forward-thinking. In hindsight, it appears to have been a throwaway, and the band’s commitment to an alternative distribution model is questionable. Don’t count on the next record getting the same treatment.

The interesting question would have been what would the pay-what-you-want model look like in the Long Tail? And how would a physical CD be able to compete with it? For this Radiohead album, we will never know.

Coldplay is making the first single from their upcoming album, “Violet Hill”, available for free download — but only for one week.

Thank you, Coldplay – that’s great. I’ll actually give it a listen. But this isn’t that big a deal. They’re going to put it on their MySpace jukebox anyway, so I’ll be able to listen to it regardless.

The New York Times headline “Coldplay At No Charge” (registration required) made it sound to me like they were jumping on the Free bandwagon, though the article itself doesn’t really suggest anything along those lines. I’m sure I won’t be the only one making that mistake. And I bet that was part of the point.

Nine Inch Nails (well, Trent Reznor) has found, in my view, the right balance.

You can go buy Ghosts I-IV on CD at Best Buy. Or you can go to the NIN web page where you have multiple purchasing options, from free (for at least the first 9 tracks) to a cheap ($5) download to almost cheap ($10) for the physical CD, to an expensive ($75) deluxe edition. And yes, you can go buy it at Best Buy if you want.

The whole thing is being released under a Creative Commons license, meaning distributing copies non-commercially is fine. And Trent Reznor has seeded copies to a popular Bittorrent tracker so if you want to give it a listen, you can do so for free.

Ghosts I-IV is a bit odd for Nine Inch Nails – more New Age than Industrial, it is a collection of sketches from the previous record rather than a self-contained concept. Too bad it isn’t more typical so we could see how Free distribution affects physical CD sales, both initially and in the Long Tail. This might not be a particularly good test case, as the album might not do particularly well distributed via traditional channels.

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  1. […] theFerf wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI feel like a zealous evangelist saying this, but the whole point of providing a free option on music distribution is to let more people hear your music, not to sell more of the non-free stuff. It’sa business model, not a marketing … […]

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