March 24th, 2009

People often ask me for stats about how much free downloading there is vs. actual sales. I’m sure they are very frustrated when I explain to them, in excruciating detail, how impossible it is to know such a thing. I used to track stats like crazy back when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make a living this way. And it was often depressing – songs like Baby Got Back or Code Monkey would get huge traffic and few sales, and the performance of less successful songs like Drive or Resolutions are best left undiscussed. But somewhere along the way the bottom line started improving, and I became less obsessed with tracking every little thing. Now I sort of think of the whole engine as a special genetically engineered cow who eats music and poops money – I have no idea what’s going on in its gut, and I have the luxury of not really caring that much about the particulars.

But because it’s interesting, since I posted Blue Sunny Day here is what happened (according to Google Analytics):

I posted it to the blog on 3/16, and twittered about it with a link to the blog post on 3/17. I have about 5,000 blog subscribers and about 23,000 Twitter followers.

On 3/16 the blog post received 740 unique views, on 3/17 it received 1,942.

As of today, the original blog post has received 4,313 unique views: 2,518 direct, 1,721 from twitter, 788 from google, 209 from facebook, and then some more smaller sources.

The link to the free mp3 has received 1,544 unique views. The way things are set up I have no way of knowing how many of these were downloads and how many of them were just people clicking on the link to listen in their browser. Though I can tell you for certain that none of those views come from people clicking on the blue playtagger play button, because Google Analytics doesn’t track those clicks.

The mp3 has been sold 179 times and earned $196. Some people bought it several times, not sure whether that was a shopping cart mistake or just people deciding to pay me more than a dollar for the song (if you made a mistake and would like your $$$ back, let me know).

The FLAC version has been sold 11 times for $11. Yay FLAC!

Worst case scenario (every unique view = one free download), the ratio of paying customers to freeloaders comes to about 13.4% if you count dollars instead of purchases. That’s actually pretty good in my opinion. And maybe I just have my rosy glasses on this morning, but I’d guess that some of the people who bought Blue Sunny Day were tipped over into buying other stuff.

So how does this work? I put out a new song and make $200? Obviously it’s a lot more complicated than that, because I’m making a pretty good living considering my recent output is about 2 songs per year. Even not considering that – I’m not getting rich exactly, but I make more money now than I did when I wrote software.

So here are some of the questions I can’t easily answer:

How many free downloads were actually “lost sales?”
How many people downloaded/listened and then donated instead of purchasing? (Full disclosure, probably not many – donations are generally a teeny tiny fraction of my income.)
How many free downloads happened in other places (P2P networks, emails, etc.)?
How much increased buying of tickets, CDs, Tshirts, mp3s happened as a result of this song and news of its release bouncing around the internet?
Who is currently making a movie about a suicidal vampire and is planning on paying me a million dollars to use this song for the final tragic scene? (Seriously, who is it? Call me…)

The eight-day period since the song was first posted boasts a 40% uptick in digital sales in my store compared with the eight days prior to that, though I just did a show and a bunch of press at SXSWi last week, so that could account for the uptick as well. And of course there are ancillary benefits of all kinds that come from the simple fact that for once there was some new content on my site – more traffic is always good.

So then extrapolate what happened with this song across my entire catalog, across all the things sold that make up my income, across the past and present and future, across all the internet radio stations and file sharing networks and Facebook pages and Twitter posts and the whole wild and wooly internet – you will never know HOW it works, but I can tell you that for me it does. The state of the industry makes a lot more sense when you think of it this way, all these new business models rising and falling, internet radio choking on insanely high performance royalties, Radiohead and NIN giving stuff away and making a killing. This is the thing about the new landscape that drives everyone crazy: you can’t see inside the cow; you can only build one, feed it music, and wait for it to poop.

76 responses to “Payday”

  1. J.Dollak says:

    I’m hesitant to buy much music online. I don’t do it often, and usually when I do, it’s for unusually obscure tracks that I don’t have any interest in buying an album of.
    This means that I’ve had the whole Thing A Week set, along with a few assorted mp3s on my ipod for a long time. When I’m ready to thin down my ipod’s assortment of music, I was hesitant to break up the collection, since I didn’t have any physical copy backed up.
    Having the fetish object of an album is a big deal for me. When I finally got to see JoCo at the Birchmere recently, I took the opportunity to buy the boxed TAW set, and the Smoking Monkey disk.
    What I really wish is that the other albums would be available as physical disks.
    On the other hand, I was willing to pay out the 50 for the flash drive. I found the element tracks to be entirely worthwhile as a bonus.

    I think I will donate soonish.
    Please, persuade them to add at least one more song of yours to Rock Band. I want to play a Coulton challenge.

  2. Paul says:

    Well, I bought portal on steam, finished it and heard THE song..
    I found you on the intertube/webs and listened to some tracks.
    Then I paid for and downloaded the full set,
    Then went to the first London concert and bought the tin box collection (and was given a free T-Shirt fro yours truly) as well as a T-shirt for me..
    Then went with my daughter (wearing the thrown t-shirt) to your second London concert and only managed to buy a P&S t-shirt (sad pirate) since you were too busy and our train was due :-(
    I tell my friends about you and have given them a good ‘seed’ collection of your stuff,
    I have also downloaded a torrent of all your stuff, though I have it twice already.

    The ‘business model’ where you slowly and steadily get everyone on the planet to be a fan of yours, and then do concerts for money seems to be a pretty good one – getting known about is the key to the whole thing.

    I’m glad that I could help you out, and thank you for entertaining me.

    Being at the 2nd London concert where you said a big thank you to everyone bought a bit of a tear to my eye.


  3. roz warren says:

    Because I am VERY OLD and grew up in the era where you bought vinal, brought it home and listened to it on a turntable, I am in the habit of buying music. First I purchased the songs from the itunes store. Then I bought them again by buying the boxed set. Then I bought them again on the new Best Of CD. I will buy them again when the DVD comes out. I’ve been to 5 JoCo shows. My life goal is to go to 100. I own a Skullcrusher Mountain shirt. And I once donated a banana because I was about to go to Aruba and it seemed like the right thing to do.

  4. Cobwebs says:

    Count me in as one of those who bought the new song and also picked up a couple of others in the process. I’ll always happily pay an artist a few bucks for something that makes me happy.

  5. Colleenky says:

    I wasn’t gonna do this, but I’m bowing to peer pressure, ’cause I’m weak like that. šŸ˜‰

    Since about fall of 2006, I’ve bought: tickets to 6 shows (sometimes more than 1); 2 T-shirts; all the CDs; many (20?) karaoke tracks; at least a few of the Aftermath tracks; several bananas, monkeys and robots; and donated to CC to get the source tracks drive. And I’ll be buying that DVD too, just as soon as it’s available (nudge, nudge).

    I’m a musician myself, so I do what I can to support my brothers and sisters in the art. :-)

  6. Dawn Wolf says:

    Just to let you know, my husband loves the song “Drive”. We always have to play it when we go on road trips.

  7. Matt Giuca says:

    Yes, sharing music is awesome. I don’t dump whole buckets of JoCo songs on my friends, but sometimes I think, “so and so would appreciate this song,” so I give it to them. Sometimes they like it, sometimes not :)

    But the point is, it’s really great to be able to say “he wants me to give this to you, and if you want any more, just download them or ask me.” (As opposed to sneaking around).

  8. Colin Prince says:

    Hi, thanks for the music. Seriously, even though I’m not going to buy it (it’s not my thing)

    [I listened to it in the browser (Firefox Win with quicktime)]

    Keep up the good work and keep writing about it cos you will inspire other music makers to do their thing and then I’ll find some music I *will* buy.

    The model is good and it seems it will triumph.

  9. Jarod says:


    Was all excited to get the first sales report from iTunes, all it does is full your head with fail.

    I’m not even going to ask to see reports anymore (unless it’s a payday!)


    (Tim Larson and the Owner/Operators)

  10. Odineye says:

    Let’s see – for me I listened to Blue Sunny Day in the browser once, then downloaded it for a buck.

    Then, when I looked at my JoCo collection, I realized that I no longer had Shop Vac, Creepy Doll, Famous Blue Raincoat, or A Talk with George – all favorites of mine from Thing A Week (I seem to have misplaced several of the songs from my collection from the podcast somehow).

    So I went to iTunes and bought all of those. I’ve always liked them, but the release of the new song definitely was the thing that made me look at the playlist on my iPod and realize I there was other stuff I wanted.

    And – I’m well aware that I just could have downloaded them again from TAW, but I figure if I like them enough to be looking for them, I like them enough to pay for them.

    I think with things like music the free is a great thing – if the listener digs it, they are just going to want more. And it sounds like you’ve got the data to back that.

  11. Brookes says:

    I freeloaded Code Monkey by recommendation at least a year ago but never listened to it, then someone linked me to Baby Got Back which stuck in my head something crazy, so I downloaded the torrent of your complete discography. Listened to that for at least a month straight before I bought the TAW box set, Smoking Monkey and Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow on cdbaby (I like to have the physical cds), bought another TAW box as an Xmas present for my sister. Saw you tonight in NYC (woo and hoo – awesome show, arrrr) and am now kicking myself because I forgot to buy a tshirt. This is the 1st time I heard Blue Sunny Day but I’m gonna go listen to it right now. I may or may not buy it (I don’t like onesie-twosies) at the moment but will definitely buy a tshirt and want to see MOAR live shows!

  12. Brookes says:

    PS you make hilarious faces when you’re not quite sure you’re going to hit the high notes – I dunno if you could see them in your 8 reflections but they were quite amusing.

    PPS I really hope someone was taping because the numbers with Paul & Storm and awesome ukelele chick whose name I am too lazy to look up were brilliant! Creepy Doll killed me – my face still hurts from smiling so hard.

    PPPS I absolutely agree with Melanie – I’d much rather give money because I want to – especially directly to the artist if at all possible – than be forced to fork over money to get the music when most of that money goes to record labels keeping musicians in slavery.

  13. Martin Tilsted says:

    I think you got your math atl east a factor 10.000 wrong. You forgot youtube. Just look at It got more then 3.5 million views.

  14. Trisha Lynn says:

    Freeloaded about 16 of your songs, haven’t bought any physical merch yet (but I will, because a JoCo shirt needs to go on my eventual T-shirt quilt) but I did go to the concert in NYC last night, I’m pimping you out to a co-worker at the office (via your ideas about the Long Tail because he’s a musician, too) and I’m also pimping you out to a friend of mine who just started a new job as a nanny and doesn’t like the kid she’s working with yet.

    Every little bit helps, I think, and that’s the lesson you keep teaching me every day.

  15. whall says:

    Ok, from this post I’ve learned:
    A) you’re some sort of musician or similar
    B) “you” “spend” “poop”
    C) you appreciate stats
    C) you *hate* repeated ordinals
    C) a lot

  16. HellZiggy says:

    I was going to list my history of feeding the JoCo money-pooping cow and I realized that you make it really damn hard for me to give you money!

    When I donated money you offered to reimburse me a dollar for every song that sucked. When I brought you cookies at the Hodgman book reading you wouldn’t take my money for the CD I wanted. When I worked merch you wouldn’t take my money for the tshirts I wanted. When you were in Vegas at the Coverville 500 show, not only did you rip up the check I tried to give you, but you brought me beer from the Green Room.

    Since you won’t ever take my money I’ve had to do things like buy tickets to concerts I’m on the comp list for, and buy songs when you release new ones.

    But even if I’d downloaded Blue Sunny Day for free, I would have had to come back and pay for it anyway because it is a totally AWESOME song!


  17. Ben Forbes says:

    Well, I’m lazy, and in the UK, and cannot be bothered to download each individual song, so I just download albums from iTunes; I think you deserve every penny you make, plus a whole truckload more.

  18. JonnyBoy says:

    Well, I see you’ve already exposed my idea, JoCo. A few days ago I got the idea: a musical with only Coulton songs in it. Now, I’m not saying this is going to be something big, but the cow in my brain is eating the music and ideas are getting pooped out. Tell you when the poop adds up to something.

  19. Jim says:

    Started off as a random victim of your music on YouTube and on TWiT (MacBreak Weekly, actually). It’s insidious. Whatever your cow’s pooping, it’s addictive.

    Going back now to re-buy all the tracks on FLAC.

    Keep up the evil plot; it’s working.

  20. rozwarren says:

    has somebody designed a cow pooping graphic and slapped it on a t shirt yet? i’d buy that.

  21. jymusic says:

    “Who is currently making a movie about a suicidal vampire and is planning on paying me a million dollars to use this song for the final tragic scene? (Seriously, who is it? Call meā€¦)”

    If only life were that simple. šŸ˜‰

  22. Steve says:

    Listened to JoCo songs on YouTube (starting with Spiff videos), got increasingly hooked. Recently came here, spent hours listening to songs and reading Info tabs, eventually realized I wanted most of these songs.

    I bought the $70 set even though I don’t care for ALL of the songs (I know, heresy), because I love the overwhelming majority of them, and I figure JoCo deserves the money. As it happens at the moment, I can afford it, and it was a feel-good purchase. At the moment, my playlists are inhabited entirely by Coulton songs.

    No DRM made all the difference however. I would not have bought a single one if they had DRM.

  23. Phil says:

    I think I have downloaded 4-5 songs free (I do not remember if any of them were the happy face free songs fro mthe site or not). But, I also bought all four thing a weeks, smoking monkey and whenever the DVD poops out of your money cow I will be getting that as well. I think the great thing about allowing the music to be free is that it gets the message out there and if people like it they will but a majority of it. Plus, since you are not “die for free downloading” people feel that if there is a song they like but are strapped for cash it’s no big deal. They will go to a show or buy a shirt later… Unless you suck. Then, you;re screwed. Mayb e that is why Ernie Wade never made any cash and was so easy to steal from. ^.^

  24. C. J. says:

    Found links via ze Frank, played/replayed/grabbed _Code Monkey_ out of browser’s cache(!) because *dammit, I want that song*. Discovered this site and felt foolish for the backdoor approach, snagged another six or seven tunes and was digging on ALL of them, when suddenly a rush of brains to the head said:
    “STOP. Why not see if perchance the man sells ‘al-bums’? Because you’re going to ruin your hands trying to snarf this stuff, and you know you want it.”
    * * *
    Sometimes a good idea survives meeting me…
    * * *
    A whole tin full of two score and a dozen? Restraint against online purchases, doomed! Hell, get two of them, because Someone is going to LOVE getting this for no particular reason except “you will thank me for turning you on to this.”

    May Cthulhu and the FSM forgive me, I’ve even paid to have the excellent karaoke songs, and — mea culpa — have committed them. In public. To my surprise, people come up to me afterwards (my voice is well suited to a career as a mime) and want to know who wrote/performed the original, because… it was DIFFERENT, and kinda cool, you know?

    In closing: JoCo, you made my month^H^H^H^H^Hyear when you announced the B.C.E. set. First thing after my initial squeeee (and evicting colleagues from orkplace office!) was to order a DVD+CD set — no, make that two (because She really does love the TAW). Second thing: brace myself for a nail-biting week before I get to hear any of it …
    … and you blindsided me by GIVING AWAY THE ZIP ARCHIVE TO TIDE ME OVER!

    You. Are. Full. Of. Awesome. And. Win. Thank you * 1.0+06 !

    There, is that a coherent economic model?

  25. Bob Welch says:

    You’re stuff is good…”Code Monkey” is nice late ’70’s , ’80’s rock (light) production…kind of like me (I was a “chart” artist on Capitol records in the late ’70’s and a former member of Fleetwood Mac. (I’m 63 old boomer)I now give away all my (new) stuff for free……..Good luck !

    Bob Welch
    (ex-Fleetwood Mac/Capitol records artist)

    P.S. Bob Lefsetz gave me your url in one of his emails.

  26. Mark Bowie says:

    I read Bob Lefetz newsletter and he totally plugged you. For every 5 newsletters I get from bob, I get the time to read 1 of them, and I’m really glad I read the one he sent me tonight.

    I’m buying your tune – Zombies for $1. Worth every penny!

    Take it Easy Jon! Can’t wait to see you play a UK show :)