Nine Inch Nails is doing something awesome, for those of you who don't keep up on these kinds of things. They've released an album, The Slip, which is made available for free download on their website:
You go there, go through some brief registration (which is both painless and easy), and then download one of a set of possible alternatives: MP3 files, Wave files, etc. It's all free, you don't even have to pay for the bandwidth. However, NIN has also released a series of physical versions, a limited-edition CD and an unlimited vinyl set. I say the CDs are "limited edition", but with a production ceiling of 250,000 units, it's not a pressing limit.
Today, having some time to spare before Dana gets off work, I went in to Barnes & Noble to hunt myself down a copy. I walk in to the store, up the escalator to the CD section, and to the "Pop/Rock" N shelf. There it was, one copy sitting right on the front of the stack. As of about 4:30 today, I am the proud owner of The Slip #25527 / 250000. Score one for me. It's not just a CD, but a DVD of live performances of the songs, a booklet with lyrics and artwork, and a set of cool stickers too. It's a great package, and I recommend any NIN fans go pick it up if you haven't already.
The neat thing about this all is that the album is released under the CC-BY-NC-SA license. It's not a license we use at Wikibooks, or a license that is used at Wikipedia either (the NC part, which stands for "Non-Commercial" is against the Wikimedia licensing rules), but it's still a very cool free license. The license notice is even printed in the CD booklet, to make sure people know about it. I can copy the songs and share them with all my friends. I can burn another copy of the CD if I want one, or if my brother wants one, or if anybody wants one. I can download the files and edit them to my liking, and post my remixes up for public download too (I probably won't, but it's liberating to think I could).
NIN has gone against every rule the recording industry holds dear: They released an album for free, encouraged downloading, sharing, mixing, and posting, and are still making money off it. If they sell all 250,000 copies to collectors for about 20$ a peice, they've made 4 million bucks. 4 million dollars is not a bad profit from a free album. Of course, this presupposes that they sell all the copies (and also ignores any possible profits they could make from the vinyl sets) but it's an interesting ballpark number.
We could be looking at the future of the music industry. If you like what you see, support the effort and make the music execs take notice.