Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content

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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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July 30, 2008

Buying Free Music
by David Harrell


Nine Inch Nails' "The Slip" has been available as free download from the band's website since early May. But enough eMusic subscribers have downloaded a paid version (released last week) to push it to the #15 spot on the daily download chart.

The eMusic subscriber reviews for the album reveal two sentiments -- "don't waste your downloads on a free album" vs. the "I want to support the band so I'm going download it again via eMusic" school of thought:
"i'm not saying you shouldn't get this album, just know that it's available for FREE on NIN's website."

"I downloaded this from, but will get it here..."

"it's a good album, and throwing the meagre cost of these downloads their way is the least you can do to thank Reznor for joining the eMusic fold."

"People, as much as I support Emu, The Slip is available for FREE from You don't need to spend 10 dls on this."
I'm no expert in the psychology of purchasing decisions, but I've always thought the eMusic subscription model was ideal for encouraging music fans to "purchase" something they already own. Because your monthly allotment of downloads is already paid for, you're not pulling money out of your pocket for each specific download decision. Hence, it seems a little easier to be generous and "buy" the eMusic version, either for sake of convenience or to support an artist. While I haven't downloaded "The Slip" from eMusic, I'll often download songs that I first obtained as free mp3s from band websites, Insound, betterPropaganda, etc., basically treating my eMusic subscription as a mini-patronage system of sorts for indie bands. If an act is self-released, eMusic downloads are an incredibly efficient way to transfer money to them -- they can actually receive more for each download than the per-song rate the subscriber is paying. (Because most subscribers don't use their full allotment of downloads each month, the per-song payout rate from eMusic, as determined by its revenue-sharing agreement, is inflated beyond the nominal per-song price implied by the monthly subscription prices.)

The album is also available as an mp3 download from (and there's a CD version with a bonus DVD), but it ranks considerably lower on the daily album download chart -- it's currently #80.

UPDATE -- Coolfer notes that the album was near the top of the Amazon chart when it was priced at $5. The album is also available in the iTunes store for $9.90, though it's currently not among the top-100 albums. The customer reviews there offer a similar mix of "don't waste your money" and "download it to support Reznor" comments.

Perhaps the difference in chart positions provides some evidence of the difference between using pre-paid eMusic downloads and making a specific purchase decision within the Amazon mp3 store, though given that the album is considerably less expensive for eMusic subscribers, it's not surprising that they're more likely to download it. There's also the issue of the respective catalogs of eMusic and When "big name" artists or albums show up in eMusic, they frequently shoot to the top of the download charts.


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