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The other day David Weinberger approached me with an idea: what if he bought album downloads from me in bulk so that he could give them away? It was interesting but I was sceptical – I’m already giving away the music for free, why would anyone care?

So we agreed on a bulk price, I rigged up a special download link he could distribute and he twittered and blogged it:

I’m trying an experiment with a business model I like to call a reverse referral fee. Here’s how it works…

You click on a link that lets you download a copy of Brad Sucks’ latest album, Out of It. The album of wonderful music is yours for free in every sense. (Share it! Please!) But, I’m going to pay Brad for each copy downloaded, at a bulk rate he and I have agreed on.

To my surprise it got a fair amount of attention (aka free word-of-mouth advertising). Many people thanked him for buying them the album, I got a lot of mentions on Twitter that I wouldn’t have ordinarily. The 50 copies were all downloaded within about an hour, but it’s pretty clear more than 50 people got introduced to my music. Plus David paid me so I made out like gangbusters.

What is there to learn from this? I’m not sure. It’s clear that the reaction was much larger than if David had said “go download Brad’s free album, it’s free and anyone can go get it whenever”. Saying that money was changing hands on behalf of their download definitely got people’s attention and created a small viral chain reaction.

David thinks this could be a viable option for super-patrons and that I should offer it as an option. What do you think?

Posted on - July 10, 2009 [at] 11:38 am by Brad
Tagged in - , , ,

15 Comments on this post

Ken on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Very interesting. People need to see a perceived value of something? I’m not sure how this could work as a regular business model. Please keep us informed if you do more of this kind of thing.

Divya on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 10, 2009 at 12:46 pm

It does definitely raise some interesting ideas! I can see how corporates/start-ups can raise their profile by sponsoring artists like you – they host your files (with their advertising) and you getting money for every song downloaded from that page (or probably asked to make 1 unique song just for that sponsorship drive).

fluffy on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 10, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Well, for whatever it’s worth, even though I download your music from your site, I also download it via Magnatune when it shows up there so you get a bit of change that way (might as well make my $10/month useful for something).

Jefff on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 10, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I’d guess that people were impressed by David’s enthusiasm for your music — backed up with cash. There was probably also the sense that these downloads were all paid for (whether they really needed to be or not), so it would be a shame to let them go to waste.

I have a hard time seeing how this would happen a whole lot though. Mainly because I think super-patrons would be hard to come by.

Jeff MacDougall on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

The result doesn’t surprise me at all. People like to have/buy things that have perceived value.

The only thing that troubles me is: How is David getting paid?

I’m all for angel investors and philanthropy… but then you really couldn’t call that a “business model” Thoughts?

gianluca on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

one of the lucky fifty
it does make sense in a way,
is like he s taking care of that lack of structure and micropayments ease that we still have
I like divya idea of a free download collector of some sort, that pays back trhough advertisments
could be a sort of ‘fair-trade’ solution
great album by the way

victor on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm

yes on super patron option

Litis on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 11, 2009 at 5:04 am

Gotta like that fancy-shmancy Web 2.0 term called “new business model” that was invented by people that are not businessmen.

Jerry on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 11, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Why limit it to “super patrons?” I found Brad’s music awhile back (don’t remember how) and bought both CDs (before the second one came out even). Although I couldn’t be as generous as David’s experiment, I could see sponsoring a paid download or two. If enough of us got together and do that, it could help spread the word about Brad’s music, too.

t3hcanadian on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 15, 2009 at 8:09 pm

good extra publicity also

scottgentzen on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 20, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Wow. I’m shocked that worked. It doesn’t make sense that it would for what’s essentially a free download. CDs maybe. Though not long ago I tried to give away a couple extra signed copies of a local artist’s new CD and had no taker so that could be coloring my expectations a bit.

I think it’s a good idea. I’m not sure how reliable/sustainable a business model it could be but it has some potential. You just have to have people with extra $$ that really love your music. Essentially, it’s kinda like the NEA in the US…paying out for artists to produce art to be freely available to the public. Also, Trent Reznor kinda did that with Ghosts and The Slip….used premium packaging at premium price finance the free downloads.

Andrew on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm

i think the primary reason for the success of this experiment is that, in fact, it was experimental. I think it has little to do with perceived value (beyond the fact of creating a ‘scarce-resource’ by pre-purchasing a certain number of downloads). If other artists started to do this widely, it would lose its ‘newsworthiness’ and, I believe, its success.

Eric Mesa on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
July 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm

People like you are coming up with awesome an innovative ways to get your music out there and make some money. You don’t need the RIAA’s ridiculous tactics. For example, I got your song “Dropping out of School” because it was featured on the Tux Radar podcast. Without that I would never have heard of you. Now I might end up buying the album, seeing you in concert, buying swag, and so on. So thanks for making at least some (if not all) of your music Creative Commons!

Universal Indie Records on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
August 4, 2009 at 7:53 am

Interesting! Very interesting! I’m always interested in experimenting with new models as well and this was something that I wouldn’t have ever thought of.

As stated above I don’t think it’s a sustainable business model as the first time is always the charm with these kind of things.

Steve on David’s reverse referral fee experiment
September 7, 2009 at 11:50 am

The whole thing doesn’t make sense to me, but that could be because I’m a fool. it seems like there’s a missing link in the chain somewhere. Unless David is making what he paid back through ads or the like, he’s out money. It’s nice he did you a favour, but doing people favours doesn’t pay the bills.

to me, the value of the download is the contents of the download itself, I.E. the music. If I hear something for free (like I did with Brad years ago) and I like it, I’m happy to keep the machine running with my donation or album sale or whatever I can do. I want more of what I’m getting, therefore it’s valuable. And by telling friends or family or blog readers that hey, I like this, you should go sample it, other people can easily be turned on to something in the same way…it’s simple word of mouth. Granted Brad doesn’t get paid per download, but at least neither of us are out any money.

Comments are closed on this post.