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.