Radiohead's name-your-price download strategy, in which the band offered its latest album, "In Rainbows," to consumers for whatever price they chose, has been the talk of the music world for months.
Now at least one major artist is following closely in the U.K. band's ground-breaking footsteps. On March 2, Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor announced on his Web site, nin.com, that he was immediately making available a new four-part album, "Ghosts I-IV," containing 36 instrumental tracks spanning nearly two hours. The music was made available in five configurations at five price levels, ranging from free (for downloads of nine songs) to $300 (for a box set that includes two CDs, a DVD, an optical disc containing a slide show, and four vinyl albums).
Business was brisk. By the next day, Reznor had posted an announcement asking fans to be patient after the high volume of downloads crashed his Web site.
"We quietly released this album last night without any warning, and without any press," Reznor wrote. "Because we know how devoted our fans are, we planned for an overwhelming response, and expected heavy traffic. To our surprise, the traffic was more than three times what we anticipated, and has only been getting heavier throughout the day. The response has been absolutely phenomenal, and we couldn't be happier, but our servers have taken a beating, causing numerous problems with the download site."
Reznor also made the tracks available through various rogue file-sharing sites, including piratebay.org, and amazon.com. He has attached no digital-rights restrictions to the music and is encouraging listeners to share and remix it as extensively as possible.
The artist, who has sold millions of albums since debuting in 1989, found himself a free agent last year after fulfilling his deal with Interscope Records. He has accused the major record labels of price gouging and last year urged consumers to steal his final Interscope album, "Year Zero," because it was overpriced.
"Ghosts I-IV" showed up without advance notice or any kind of marketing campaign. It resulted from a 10-week recording session, which included collaborators such as producer-mixer Alan Moulder and guitarist Adrian Belew.
"We began improvising and let the music decide the direction," Reznor wrote on his Web site in announcing the release. "Eyes were closed, hands played instruments and it began. Within a matter of days it became clear we were on to something, and a lot of material began appearing. What we thought could be a five song EP became much more."