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"I think the way [Radiohead] parlayed it into a marketing gimmick has certainly been shrewd," Reznor said when speaking to Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Michael Atkin. "But if you look at what they did, though, it was very much a bait and switch to get you to pay for a MySpace-quality stream as a way to promote a very traditional record sale."
Reznor is referring to Radiohead's release of "In Rainbows" as lossy 160kbps (max) MP3 downloads, which many would argue are sub-par when compared to DRM-free offerings from Amazon and iTunes Store (both of which offer 256kbps DRM-free music). Furthermore, Radiohead's album is also no longer offered as a digital download, as the band openly stated that they were still going to rely on traditional labels and distribution channels for the rest of In Rainbows' sales.
"There's nothing wrong with that," Reznor continued, "but I don't see that as a big revolution [that] they're kinda getting credit for." In addition to the quality of Radiohead's MP3s, NIN's frontman also took issue with the band's omission of artwork and altogether not taking care of the fans. "To me that feels insincere. It relies upon the fact that it was quote-unquote 'first,' and it takes the headlines with it."
This new movement of independent, DRM-free music distribution is indeed undiscovered country, and both of these bands have wildly different approaches. Nine Inch Nails was among the first major acts to completely break ties with its label, diving head first into the new realm of fan interactivity and digital distribution. Radiohead, on the other hand, is clearly still depending on its label, in hindsight classifying its "In Rainbows" experiment as more of a toes-in-the-water move than the sort of bold departure on par with Nine Inch Nails'.
Were both bands' experiments a success? There's no doubt. While Radiohead has declined to offer actual numbers from its "pay if you want" experiment, frontman Thom Yorke has stated that "in terms of digital income, we've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever."
Nine Inch Nails, on the other hand, told the Chicago Tribune on March 12 that "Ghosts" has brought in 781,917 transactions from the website so far, netting a total revenue of $1.6 million in just one week. Not too bad for virtually zero marketing of an instrumental album. Instead of offering a limited digital download, then switching to CD distribution like Radiohead, however, Nine Inch Nails has offered a variety of formats—including lossless downloads, optical discs, and even vinyl—on its own from the start. Reznor also doesn't show any signs of cutting off digital downloads, either.
When Atkin asked whether the labels would learn from successes like "Ghosts," Reznor didn't sound enthusiastic. "The level of ineptitude I've seen at the major labels is stunning. The people in charge of a lot of the digital technologies and the aspects that are decimating their business that I've seen are people that seem to not even be on the Internet."