October 1, 2014
Thom Yorke, the lead singer of the rock band Radiohead, recently partnered with file-sharing company BitTorrent to release his new solo album directly to fans. Yorke’s album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” is the first record to be released as part of a BitTorrent Bundle with a pay gate, a feature that BitTorrent is testing as it tries to shed its reputation for pirated content. So far, the gamble for BitTorrent and Yorke has proved successful with 400,000 downloads in the first three days.
BitTorrent, once the enemy of the entertainment company because of the extensive sharing of pirated content, is hoping to continue working with artists to bring their work directly to fans. In the case of “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” fans paid six dollars for the bundle, and BitTorrent took a 10 percent cut of the revenue and some transaction-processing fees. The rest goes back to the artist.
“If it works well, it could be an effective way of handing some control of Internet commerce back to people who are creating the work,” Yorke said.
Currently, tech giants usually take a significant part of the revenue generated from e-commerce. According to MIT Technology Review, companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google and others can take as much as a 40 percent cut of what consumers pay.
Radiohead has a history of experimenting with distribution methods. Their last album, “In Rainbows,” was released in 2007, and the band let consumers pay any price or nothing if they wanted. The British rock band is currently in the studio working on a new album, according to Variety.
The pay gate is a significant departure for BitTorrent, which has a user base of 140 million users, many of them sharing files illegally. The New York Times reports that one study showed 6.7 petabytes — or 6.7 million gigabytes — of illegal content was shared on BitTorrent last year. However, the company does not control the open-source BitTorrent software and the content that people share on it.
Despite the piracy concerns, many content creators, including prominent artists, continue to share files on the site. More than 10,000 users have registered to use BitTorrent Bundles, which made its debut in 2013. CNET cited Public Enemy, Madonna, Drafthouse Films, Tim Ferriss, and Marc Ecko as BitTorrent Bundle makers.
“It’s the first media format designed with the fact in mind that people share stuff on the Internet,” says Matt Mason, chief content officer at BitTorrent. “Bundles let artists make a better connection with fans by selling to them directly.”