Trent Reznor/Saul Williams Collaboration, Paste magazine: Taking the Radiohead Model to Heart

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Trent Reznor -- who decided to remove NIN from the major-label machine a few weeks back -- is up to some new shenanigans. Head over to niggytardust.com and sign up to download the new record from Saul Williams, which Reznor produced (and Alan Moulder mixed). Donate whatever you want; the record will be released November 1. The catch? If you download it for free, you'll get the record in 192 KBps format; if you pay, you can also get it in the higher-fidelity 320 kbps and FLAC (lossless format). Brilliant ploy to lure audiophiles.

Paste magazine -- which already gives away a free CD every month -- also just launched a brilliant promotion to build up its subscription base. For the next two weeks, you can sign up for a subscription to the magazine for as little as $1 for 11 issues. That's what I did; Lord knows I don't need any more magazines, but the allure of free music and a nearly-free magazine drew me in.

Naturally, these offers are (at least in Paste's case) directly related to Radiohead releasing its new album, In Rainbows, over the Internet on October 10. Besides the curiosity factor and inevitable press both of these endeavors will get/are getting -- heck, look at this blog post -- it's an interesting phenomenon that might not be the hugely groundbreaking act some say it is.

For starters, there's less of a risk for these artists to move outside of the industry comfort zone. The Oxford eggheads have name recognition, as do Paste and Reznor, meaning that they have a built-in fanbase and past precedent. And, at least in Radiohead and Reznor's cases, l suspect that money isn't a huge issue, especially since both earn quite a bit from touring and past residuals. Experimenting like this doesn't carry the same risk that it might be for, say, a lesser-tier indie band.

And besides, Radiohead apparently just signed a deal with ATO Records for physical distribution of Rainbows in the States. What will be more interesting to see is how many copies that will sell during its first week -- especially since, according to the Web site, What Price Did You Choose?, the average person paid 3.88 pounds for Rainbows (which translates roughly to $8.06, less than iTunes -- but not by much). The first-week totals for the Shins and Arcade Fire's latest albums prove that leaked copies don't really hurt sales -- but neither of those cost money to snag. Will people buy Rainbows again, just to have the physical artifact? Only time will tell.

-- Annie Zaleski

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