Interview with Matt Mason from BitTorrent (English version)

"Streaming providers are too invested in doing the wrong thing"

Two months ago, Thom Yorke's suprising release of his new solo album as a bundle on BitTorrent created quite a buzz. More than 4 million people have downloaded it so far. We talked to BitTorrent CCO Matt Mason about the future of music distribution.

Tonspion: Two months ago you released the new album of Thom Yorke as a BitTorrent Bundle. How would you sum up the results of this "experiment" (Yorke) in a few words?

Matt Mason: To quote Thom's manger Chris Hufford, "I don't think it could have gone any better."

BitTorrent is known and popular for getting stuff for free. How did the users react to the fact that they had to pay for a bundle?

They paid for it. In droves. Because the thing that academics and ourselves have been saying about BitTorrent users for many years is true: They will pay for content if you give them the opportunity to do so.

You offered free and paid bundles of the Yorke album. How many of the 4 Million downloads have actually been paid for? 

Thom asked us not to release sales figures, but what I can say is it did very well - better than we all expected. Freemium has always been a promising model for the music business.

You are planning to offer the bundles as a distribution platform for any musician out there very soon. Not everybody will get headlines like Thom Yorke did. Can they create some attention for their stuff within BitTorrent?

Yes - there are many ways we are promoting Bundles through discovery and search within the BitTorrent ecosystem of products that you will see roll out in the next twelve months.

With every bundle, artists will create new BitTorrent users. How can you guarantee, that they are actually not supporting illegal filesharing by promoting their bundles?

Bundles cannot be shared illegally. There is no link between Bundles and illegal file-sharing. If someone rips the contents of a Bundle and uploads them to some piracy site, we can't stop them doing that any more than Apple, Google or Amazon have been able to with their content platforms.

What do you tell people who are scared to eventually enter the illegal sphere with downloading and using a BitTorrent client?

If you are using products made by BitTorrent Inc. and only downloading content from BitTorrent.com, there is no illegal content and it is therefore impossible for you to download illegal content.

Can also German musicians and publishers use Bundles? What's the deal?

We have one deal and it's the same for everyone. If you sell something through Bundle, we get 10%, the credit card processor or paypal gets roughly another 5%, and the other 85% goes to the publisher. We are more than happy to work with German publishers, or any other publisher. But that's the deal - it's a self serve thing, there's no special rate and we are not negotiating directly with collecting societies because we don't need to. It's on the publisher of the Bundle to split their share of the revenue with the people they need to.

Taylor Swift just retracted all her albums from Spotify in order to sell more copies. Other artists might follow. Are the streaming services in trouble?

Consumers have chosen streaming as a way they want to consume media. What hasn't been figured out is the right business model or rev share agreement, that's what Taylor Swift seemed to be reacting to. Many people stream from Bundles - but we leave the price up to the artist, and will be introducing more options around streaming in the coming months. There's more work to be done. Personally I don't think the current crop of streaming providers are positioned well to figure it out, because they are already too invested in doing the wrong thing.

What will the filesharing technology of the future be like? 

We refer to "filesharing technology" as distributed technology at BitTorrent, because it's not about sharing files, it's much broader than that. Every time Facebook updates, BitTorrent is used to push the update. Same thing with Twitter, Wikipedia, Amazon. The Large Hadron Collider uses BitTorrent to process data. The Human Geonmoe project uses it. Wall St uses it. BitTorrent was designed to power the Internet we need next. It's a replacement for http. You can use it for many things, including downloading and streaming media. The next decade we will see more companies and consumers relying on distributed tech for all kinds of things.

As for rewarding content creators and creative people, we've been doing that as a species since before we invented money. I don't think that's going to change, and judging by the results we are seeing with Bundles, it's going to get a lot better for artists in the short term.

More music is out there than ever before and still the music business revenues have dropped massively in the past 10 years.
Your advice to the music industry and musicians out there who suffer from declining sales?

Musicians have more ways to make and distribute music than ever before. I don't think the formula has changed. If you make music that really matters to a number of people, you can make a living from it. But there are as many ways to do that as there are styles of music.

Read the German version of this interview

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BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer program developed by Bram Cohen and BitTorrent, Inc. used for uploading and downloading files via the BitTorrent protocol. BitTorrent was the first client written for the protocol. 

Tonspion is the biggest German mp3 music magazine, introducing new albums with free legal downloads and streams.

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