BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file distribution network that has been repositioning itself as a legit friend and home to the creative industries, is today embarking on the latest phase of its strategy to build a bigger business model for itself, and the musicians, filmmakers and others whose content gets distributed on its network. It is opening its paygate-based business model to all artists and others who would like to use BitTorrent to distribute their content.
At a time when there is a lot of debate over whether services like Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube or Amazon are really giving creators the returns they deserve when their content is downloaded or streamed on those platforms, BitTorrent believes that it has the answer: giving artists a 90% cut of all sales around a model that features a flexible model: you can take some content for free, get some behind a paywall; or see the content move to paywall after a certain number of visits for example.
“Taylor Swift sparked debate over the state of music in recent weeks; the value of a stream, the value of a record. The value of art shouldn’t be up for debate. It should be up to artists,” said Matt Mason, chief content officer for BitTorrent. “Our goal with BitTorrent Bundle is to restore control to creators. We’re opening up applications for paygates to all publishers: allowing artists to sell content direct to fans, on their terms, while keeping 90% of sales revenue.”
The move was made public at the same time that BitTorrent announced the second of its big-name Paygate partners, a collaboration with the musician Diplo, who is celebrating the tenth anniversary of his first album, Florida, with a $5 paygated Bundle that features the full album plus new, unreleased content.
Although BitTorrent has been talking about its plans for paygates for well over a year now, it only released the first of these at the end of September. Radiohead frontman (and Spotify naysayer) Thom York’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes Bundle has now been downloaded 4.4 million times.
The company is not disclosing how many of those downloads have seen people pay for the extra content. “As with Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Thom Yorke’s decision was, from the outset, not to disclose sales data. The choice to share that information is at the artist’s discretion. As it should be. We have to respect the artist’s decision,” says Straith Schreder, director of content strategy for BitTorrent.
She adds that new artists or others wanting to use the paygate can apply here; those already distributing on BitTorrent can now click on “Add Paygate” when they create new Bundles on existing accounts.
“Applying”, she says, is pretty straightforward: New artists will be asked to provide contact details, as well as some basic information about the project they’d like to publish, and that’s all.
But they are not going to be rolled out all at once.
“We are not being selective per se,” she says. “Our goal is to make paygates available to all artists. We believe art has value; we want everyone to have the ability to sell their work direct-to-fan using Bundle. As with the rollout of the self-publish email gate feature in September 2013, we’re greenlighting paygates in batches. This allows us to QA the platform, and make sure that each publisher is properly set up. We want the paygate experience to be the best possible one for creators and their fans.”
In addition to the 10% cut to BitTorrent, she says that the publisher is also responsible for payment processing fees, which is typically less than 5%. “This is a much better deal for artists.”
“For one, it’s transparent. Other sales and streaming platforms have come under attack for failing to disclose the deals they’ve made with labels. While Spotify has claimed to pay 70% of their revenue to rightsholders, public statements by artists, including Taylor Swift, indicate that little of that money is actually making it back to the people making the songs,” she says. “For another, it’s sustainable. Platforms like iTunes take up to 40% of sales revenue — without disclosing fan contact information or data. Which means that, as an artist, you have no idea who’s buying your work, and how to reach them. To deprive artists of this data is to deprive them of the ability to build a viable business.”