Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Nine Inch Nails releases Ghosts I-IV on web, experiment in direct sales doesn't go so well at first

I have made it through one listen to Ghosts I-IV, the new album from Nine Inch Nails. This release is noteworthy for a number of reasons:

  • The first fully instrumental release from the band
  • Their first release without a record label
  • Their first release made available nearly exclusively through their web site (though Trent Reznor has dabbled with direct content releases before
  • Each album is 9 tracks long, so the full release is 4 albums, 36 tracks, for just $5.00 if you want to pay, because...
  • It's also officially available on BitTorrent (at least the first 9 tracks, though it's only a matter of time before the whole thing is up anyway) and the Amazon MP3 Store (though you don't get the extras from Amazon that you do from the band's site for the same $5.00, it's just the music and only 256 kbps MP3s, not even the 320 kbps on the band's site)
  • Ghosts I-IV is not available on iTunes
I have been a NIN fan since high school and I have wanted a purely instrumental release from the Trent Reznor since at least The Downward Spiral (Wikipedia). It usually takes me multiple listens to get into a new NIN album, but Ghosts on one listen is obviously great. If you have ever liked music like this, then you should go get it, especially since it's so cheap or free depending on your disposition.

That said, yesterday when I went to download Ghosts from NIN's site, which was released on March 2nd, the site was crushed. It took a long time to complete the order and checkout process, then when I went to download the album at 8 PM March 3, this is what I saw:

Later, about 9 PM, the server error was replaced with a more friendly message (which I forgot to screenshot), and finally this morning I was able to download the release and the NIN homepage has the following message from Trent Reznor:

Choose your format, and why not on iTunes?
Ghosts is offered in a number of formats:

I really don't understand why anyone would choose the MP3 option here, other than possibly convenience, even that I think is kinda silly. If you get Apple Lossless, you get audio mathematically identical to a CD with no DRM. Once you add the songs to iTunes, you can convert them to either AAC or MP3 by right-clicking on the songs and picking convert, its like 2 clicks to get to either of the lossy formats. Pictured left is the AAC option, the convert choice is dictated by the format you have set to Import music as in iTunes (Preferences -> Advanced -> Importing). Apple Lossless (ALAC for Apple Lossless Audio Codec) is the best possible format to buy in since the tool to convert, iTunes, is so easy to use and a lot of people have it installed. I am sure people could make freedom arguments for FLAC, since ALAC is an Apple proprietary format even though Apple is using the MP4 container format, just not a licensable codec like AAC. But ALAC is the right mix of features/convenience, and since ALAC is DRM free lossless, you can even get the tools to convert to FLAC if you really wanted to. I actually just loaded the ALAC files onto the iPhone, the total was 582 MB and I had the space.

So why not on iTunes? There is literally no music label involved, is Apple holding Trent Reznor and company back from releasing Ghosts I-IV + extras on iTunes for $5.00? Did Apple want more of a cut than Amazon? Did Reznor want to release first on his site before giving iTunes the goods, like Radiohead did with In Rainbows? Would Apple only allowed release in 256 kbps MP4 AAC branded as iTunes Plus? Would Apple offer ALAC too? NIN sure could have used the iTunes distribution network yesterday...