Torrents are indisputably one of the fastest ways to distribute files, but they've been extremely hard to monetize -- until now.
BitTorrent has built a preliminary format called the BitTorrent Bundle, which will let content owners charge for some files within a torrent. The company has partnered with the music label Ultra to test out the Bundle Alpha by sharing a mix of behind-the-scenes music, videos, and a "digital tour booklet" from Kaskade, a star in the realm of electronic dance music. It's all part of the artist's 2012 "Freaks of Nature" tour and is meant to promote Kaskade's soon-to-be-released tour DVD.
"The strategy here is to give content creators the tools to publish into the ecosystem on their own," said Christian Averill, BitTorrent's director of communications. "We're creating a new kind of torrent, the gated torrent, and the idea is that this will be pervasive once it gets out there."
In its blog post announcing BitTorrent Bundle, the company said the aim is to provide "a distributed technology solution for creators.... Our goal is to move the interaction to where it matters, making it a property of the file versus the distribution framework (and) giving artists real data about -- and real access to -- their fans."
The Bundle Alpha works like any other torrent, from a technical standpoint. However, you must open the torrent in BitTorrent or uTorrent. When a user begins downloading content, a new browser window opens as well. In the case of the Kaskade "Freaks of Nature" Bundle (download), users are asked to contribute an e-mail address, presumably for mailing list purposes. However, the same mechanism allows torrent creators to charge for content if they choose to do so.
"In front of the gate, there's free content. The front of the gate is the 'flyer,' in music industry terms," Averill said. "Then there's the gate. In this case, it's an e-mail gate. This is important so that you can promote later to your audience. The gate can be a paywall, or anything. It's really going to be up to the partners."
Averill said that BitTorrent conducted 29 Bundle experiments, totaling 170 million downloads, before introducing today's "gate" for the Kaskade Bundle. Some of the musicians, filmmakers, and authors featured in previous bundles included Pretty Lights, the Death Grips (before Spin named them the Artist of the Year for 2012), Tim Ferriss and his book "The 4-Hour Chef," and Cinedigm.
BitTorrent Bundle has the potential to revolutionize how entertainers get their content to consumers, but it also represents the latest effort by BitTorrent to rehabilitate the tarnished image of the torrent. This time, however, it might just succeed.