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The Economy of Free

By producing and promoting your work online, you must develop a strategy for free. I learned this from Chris Anderson who popularized the term, “The Long Tail.” He is now writing a book about the economy of free.

This year, we saw Radiohead lead the way in free by “giving away” their music. By allowing fans to set the price tag, or even download the work for free, Radiohead made a statement about the distribution of art. On the internet, distribution is essentially free. With a good strategy, you can post and distribute with greater ease. And people might or might not pay for it. And why should they?

Recently, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails followed suit by offering free downloads of his music. Before this initiative, he has actively encouraged his fans during shows to download his music for free: Wendy Davis writes, “Last year, at a concert in Australia, he urged fans to download his group’s tracks from file-sharing sites rather than pay what his label charged instead of paying for it on CD.”

Trent Reznor also produced Saul Williams’ album “Niggy Tardust,” and offered the fans a pay-what-you-want system. According to Wendy Davis’ article, the results were mixed. Only 18% of people who downloaded the album paid anything.

However, it greatly increased Saul Williams exposure. His last album sold 34,000 copies, while “Niggy Tardust” sold 28,000. On the other hand, there were a total of 154,000 downloads accounted. That’s five times the number of his past album. Considering Saul’s label took a cut of the 34,000 albums sold, Saul actually made more money on his new album.

Perhaps Free ain’t so bad, afterall.

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