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Brad Sucks: Guess Who's a Mess album cover

Guess Who's a Mess, my third album. 10 tracks, instant downloads.

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saul williams Trent Reznor released some facts about the Saul Williams record he produced and then released digitally for $5 []:

Saul’s previous record was released in 2004 and has sold 33,897 copies.

As of 1/2/08,
154,449 people chose to download Saul’s new record.
28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning:
18.3% chose to pay.

Of those paying,

3220 chose 192kbps MP3
19,764 chose 320kbps MP3
5338 chose FLAC


  • 28,322 * $5 = $141,610 which for a solo artist and zero marketing investment seems pretty decent. Of course partnering with a super famous established artist like Trent helps.
  • With 154,449 downloads and earnings of $141,610 that works out to earning $0.92 per download which vastly exceeds all bandwidth costs.
  • 154,449 seems like an extremely low number of downloads. The hype for this album was primarily in nerd-centric venues so I’m assuming the majority skipped the ecommerce shit and went straight to torrents for their downloads.
  • This isn’t counting other digital sales avenues — did they put it on iTunes? That’s where most people are buying their digital music these days, not going direct to the artist’s website.
  • I think putting such a low limit on what people could pay was a dopey idea. If we’re going to be dealing in intangible value, why not let consumers decide for themselves?
  • Are there really that many FLAC users out there?

All in all I think it was a success even if they feel disheartened. Trent admits that he spent too much on the record. I’d be interested to know what the costs amounted to. I can’t even conceive of spending $40,000 on a record let’s say and having $100,000 left over would keep me in beer and guitar strings for another year or two.

Posted on - January 3, 2008 [at] 9:04 pm by Brad
Tagged in - , , , , ,

4 Comments on this post

Aaron Luchko on Saul Williams download numbers
January 3, 2008 at 11:15 pm

Actually the low limit might be a very clever idea.

My guess is that a lot of people want to make a contribution, but become uncomfortable above a certain price point (say X). Giving an upper limit of Y makes people feel cheap it they pay X than they’re left with the choice of exceeding their price or feeling cheap. Given this choice they’re probably going to procrastinate, probably indefinitely, on paying. Setting a low, non-negotiable, price that’s probably < X can not only lead to additional purchases but will establish the precedent of paying for your work for those additional customers which can expand future sales.

I have no idea if the additional sales from the low price point exceeds the additional revenue from the high/no limit but given a convenient enough payment method it probably could.

Brad on Saul Williams download numbers
January 3, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Interesting points, Aaron.

Though you could always suggest a default price. Magnatune’s been doing this for years and I think it’s a pretty good method.

A simple “Pay what you like — recommended: $5” notice or default a) wouldn’t have scared off the lazy/indecisive b) would have allowed the true fans to pay more and c) would have given the remaining 126,127 consumers leeway to choose.

Would you rather get a dollar from some percentage of 126,127 people or nothing at all?

Matt on Saul Williams download numbers
January 4, 2008 at 1:25 am

I bought FLAC, for if I wanted to burn a CD, or something, but I immediately transcoded it into 256kbs AAC.

Chris on Saul Williams download numbers
March 1, 2008 at 8:16 am

The numbers also didn’t reflect those that may have downloaded it to sample, then came back to purchase. This is what I did and what I do when checking out stuff from Magnatune. I want to hear the album at least once and I think that it would be interesting to see the number of folks that came back to purchase after downloading. I realize that those numbers couldn’t possibly reflect all of the folks that had heard the album from friends and decided to purchase or download, but it would still be interesting to see the numbers.

In an interview, Reznor said that he was “disheartened” by the number of people who downloaded and didn’t pay, but did he expect people to pay for something that they hadn’t heard? I have never felt comfortable buying an album that I have no idea what to expect. Even if it had Reznor’s involvement, people want to hear it before they download. Even 30 second samples on some services can be deceiving as to what a song can sound like.

A also agree that they probably should have had a way for the person purchasing to name their own price with a suggested price, again, similar to Magnatune.

I purchased the album in FLAC just as I did “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” for archival reasons, the ability to make a CD, and for transcoding to Vorbis. I am glad that I am seeing more artists offer files in FLAC.

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