Free music isn't exactly a tough sell, but BitTorrent is betting that it can help artists find paying fans with its pre-packaged content Bundle program. Bundles have racked up 100 million downloads since launching last year, with Bay Area rapper G-Eazy responsible for helping the company reach the milestone.
BitTorrent has worked with a slew of musicians, writers, and filmmakers to create Bundles. Madonna, Moby, and Public Enemy have all used the program to publish and promote their latest work. After De La Soul crashed Dropbox by making their back catalog free on the cloud storage service for a day, the group turned to BitTorrent to promote its latest mixtape.
A BitTorrent Bundle is a customizable content package that artists can self-publish and embed or share across their various channels. A Bundle can include basically any type of media, and creators choose how fans can access the content. In De La Soul's case, the group released a Bundle that was accessible by e-mail, so fans just had to submit their information to download the rappers' latest EP. The group collected around 50,000 fan addresses in a week.
Building a digital storefront
After gauging the success of Bundles, BitTorrent plans to introduce pay gates this summer so artists can make money off the content people are torrenting. Not surprisingly, creators are chomping at the bit to get a piece of the Bundle action.
"Every conversation about digital music is about streaming," said Matt Mason, BitTorrent's chief content officer. "The major labels have given up on the idea of selling music, or that music is worth anything at all. A streaming service is great if you can monetize Led Zeppelin's back catalog, but it's not so great if you're a new artist with an EP. I think what we've seen over the last year is that everybody out there wants the Internet to have a record store and they want to be able to connect with fans there. That's what we started to build."
That positive reception is a far cry from the frosty greeting BitTorrent got when it met with artists in the Bundle program's early alpha days. BitTorrent the company and BitTorrent the protocol are inextricably linked, but people often assume the client's illegal uses have the business's tacit approval. That's not the case. With Bundles, BitTorrent is out to prove that peer-to-peer technology can be used to in a way that even artists approve of, and with pay gates, they'll even be able to see a return on time spent. The company plans to take a 10 percent cut of the pay-gated Bundles, but Mason said the program isn't really about generating money for BitTorrent so much as it is for artists.
"This is less about building a business for us and more about funding bundles," Mason said. "Bundles is about doing something meaningful in the publishing space. What's so great about what we get to do here is we don't have to put the bottom line first. BitTorrent's bottom line is fine. This is not our only revenue stream. We're a technology company with lots of different revenue streams. Bundles for us is about doing the right thing for the publishing industry."