Limited Edition Digital Music


And I had some similar thoughts to Andrew’s, even further below. [Note: click through to read all of Albert’s post, totally worthwhile.]


Albert wrote an interesting post on “Limited Edition Digital Music” that caught my attention this morning.  Here’s his post first, and then my response below.


This is another post in thinking out loud about the economics of abundant and digital goods.  In particular, I am interested in mechanisms that allow producers to recapture some of the consumer surplus even when the price for (a version of) the good is zero.

In photography, there is a well established difference between limited edition prints (sometimes a single one) made by the artist and reproductions of the photograph in catalogs or online.  I believe it is possible to create a similar mechanism for digital music.  An artist could take something like the original recording of a song and/or a track specifically remixed for this purpose an sell it in a limited edition model.


My $0.02: Maybe this is just a cultural issue (failure of my imagination) since I’ve never seen a signed/limited MP3 in this way, but I wouldn’t put much value in a “limited” good that is strictly digital because I know it can be perfectly copied (as you mention above), even if such a copy is not authorized by a receipt or valid code.

However, I agree with the idea of music artists selling limited additions. Trent Reznor has done this successfully a number of times, but he’s done it in situations where the digital good (mp3) is free (since it will be free on bittorrent an hour after release anyway) and then the limited edition is a signed set of LPs or a CD with a with sweet liner note art or some other physical good which cannot easily be duplicated. He’s had more success with this model of monetizing music than with the “radiohead-esque” pay-what-you-think-its-worth donation model, so you’re definitely on to something here.

As you mention in your post, photographers do this idea of limited edition physical (not digital) goods too today. The limited edition prints in photography are physically printed and signed, they’re not transferred digitally. While it could be copied (high resolution scanner and high qualtiy printing press), such a copy will always be lossy as it transitions across the digital/analog barrier and it will always have some marginal cost. I think my hangup is around the theoretically perfect ability to copy a digital good at zero marginal cost.

With the digital limited edition, it feels to me like we’re entering the realm of social gesture (which is not a bad thing).

Sticking to music for the moment, with a limited physical edition the edition is the object itself rather than the music: only 100 copies of that signed 7” disc exist. When we shift that to a digital model, where the producer maintains a list of which copies are the “true” originals, the value doesn’t seem to be in the digital copy but rather in the list that ackowledges the buyers of the “originals.” The fact that my name appears on the list of limited edition owners is what separates my digital copy from any other copy.

Interesting discussions to be had here.