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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

NIN

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 nin.com, 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 nin.com. 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 Amazon.com (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 Amazon.com. When "big name" artists or albums show up in eMusic, they frequently shoot to the top of the download charts.

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    THE LAYAWAYS

    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/maybe-next-year">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs


    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at Last.fm.



    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/the-space-between">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at Last.fm or Napster.



    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/weve-been-lost">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.



    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website