Matt Mason has a great post today noting that Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was Amazon’s best-selling album of 2008 – despite also being available as a free download.

Sampling has long been a valid marketing tactic, but giving the whole thing away and still expecting to sell it? And it working?? It’s a cracking anecdote and sparks some great talking points:

  • should companies with copyable products (including books, magazines and tv programmes) routinely offer a free option?
  • Is the trick to lure people in with the basic product free, then upsell them to an added-value version?
  • do people prefer to pay for things they value?
  • would this work as well (or better?) for products in less glamorous sectors?
  • Is the success of this promotional tactic repeatable or will it only work while a novelty?

In my mind it shows yet again that successful responses to market disruption are not always obvious or comfortable.

[update] NIN’s latest contrary tactic is to use bit torrent (usually the scourge of the music industry) to distribute acres of HD concert footage for fans to remix. Again – great engagement marketing