NIN Prove Radiohead was Right: FREE SELLS

Amazon just announced their list of the Bestselling Albums of 2008 on their MP3 digital service. At first glance you might not think much of the list: Coldplay, Death Cab For Cutie, 3 Doors Down, Beck, and Radiohead are all near the top of the list.

What is remarkable and noteworthy is the #1 spot, Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV. Ghost I-IV is a 36 song instrumental album with no radio airplay, no MTV love and only minor press coverage, that however is not what is noteworthy about the #1 album (although 36 song instrumental album is not what conventional wisdom would tell you should be the best selling album on any list).

Chris Anderson of Wired points out that what is remarkable about this album being the #1 album is that it was was released for FREE under a Creative Commons license.

Anderson also points out that:

"The album made more than $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard's Electronic charts, has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles."

After leaving his major label Interscope at the end of his contract Trent Reznor has released Ghosts I-IV, a studio album The Slip, and a sampler EP of the artist on his last tour. All of them are available as free downloads on

And just last week Reznor posted a news post on his site titled "your gift!" in which he says that:

"I was contacted by a mysterious, shadowy group of subversives who SOMEHOW managed to film a substantial amount (over 400 GB!) of raw, unedited HD footage from three separate complete shows of our Lights in the Sky tour. Security must have been lacking at these shows because the quality of the footage is excellent."

Adding "Oh yeah, you didn't hear this from me."

This is the point where someone from Interscope would have told Trent that giving away 400 GB of HD video for free will not help sell DVDs in the same way giving his music away for free obviously will not sell more records.

The Ghost I-IV experiment, following Saul Williams and Radiohead before it, has proven once and for all that this method of releasing music does work. I would bet that right now all of the artists with records coming in at # 2-100 on Amazons list are sitting around wondering why they are not doing something like this themselves (but not #11, Radiohead's In Rainbows).

Note: Our own editor's Phoenix's Best Records of 2008 had a similar result. His pick for #1 album was also the only album of his list released this way.

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Stephen Chilton