BitTorrent, the massively popular file sharing service, may be the last place music executives would go to generate profit for their artists. But the San Francisco company is looking to change that -- and the future of music distribution.
On Tuesday, BitTorrent launched a product with DJ Shadow aimed at generating revenue for the company and the hip hop artist.
Here's how it works: BitTorrent is offering its 150 million users a free download of content from DJ Shadow's new album, "Hidden Transmissions." The download includes three tracks, archival video from DJ Shadow's performances and photos -- all for free.
Here's where the money comes in: Downloaders have the option to "support" DJ Shadow by also downloading a separate piece of software, in this case a media player from RealPlayer. For every download of the software, BitTorrent and DJ Shadow receive an undisclosed referral fee.
"This is the first time ever that an artist has worked directly with BitTorrent to monetize content," said Matt Mason, executive director of marketing at BitTorrent. "It is kind of a giant leap forward."
The arrangement is unusual because BitTorrent's technology for transferring data files at blazing speeds is the preferred method for online pirates to illegally share songs, movies, games and other copyrighted content.
To be clear, the company does not condone or encourage piracy, though many of its users are doing just that. As a result, record companies and movie studios don't hold BitTorrent in the highest regard, but neither are they filing lawsuits against the company (though individual users may have been sued).
Digitally intrepid artists, however, have done promotions with BitTorrent before, said Mike Fiebach, founder of Fame House, a digital marketing firm that ran BitTorrent promotions for artists Pretty Lights and Billy Van and is now representing DJ Shadow. Fame House published a case study on the BitTorrent campaign for Pretty Lights, the stage name for Derek Vincent Smith, who gave away his music in exchange for a lot of notoriety.
Now, BitTorrent, a profitable company that makes money licensing its software, is taking the next step to generate not just marketing fame but also money for artists.
"New business models built on top of the BitTorrent ecosystem are the future of content," said BitTorrent Chief Executive Eric Klinker in a blog post. "This is where fans are. It's time to bring artists, filmmakers and game developers into that conversation in meaningful ways, too."