BitTorrent VP of marketing Matt Mason, who joined the company a little more than a year ago, has been directly involved in the partnerships and views these promotions as only the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship with the industry, one that can eventually be monetized at a mass scale.
"This is clearly a valuable audience to speak to," he says in a phone interview. "And these 170 million people worldwide are not simply pirates who won't pay for anything. All the myths we hear about BitTorrent users simply aren't true. They will reward content creators, and we've seen that with every single experiment we've run."
This is not to say he doesn't understand why his company has attracted the reputation it has. The original HTTP protocol was invented for the transfer of text, and as the Internet matured it became a venue for richer media like audio and video, the large files of which became a strain to transfer in large quantities online. The engineer Bram Cohen invented the BitTorrent protocol to spread the files across thousands of distributors, thereby reducing the strain (and download time) on any one network.
"The reason that BitTorrent became thought of as a tool for piracy was because most of the people on the Internet moving rich media saw BitTorrent for the potential for piracy and used it for that," says Mason. "And its name quickly became marred as far as the content industries were concerned." That, however, was never the company's intention.
So far, BitTorrent has formed content partnerships with between one to two artists a month, and it employs a number of methods to promote the files. Perhaps its most successful promotion occurs when a new user downloads the BitTorrent software; Mason says it receives between 600,000 and 800,000 downloads a day, and so BitTorrent simply offers the free file on what he calls the install path.
On most days, the promotion receives between a 40 to 50 percent conversion rate. In other words, nearly half of the 500,000 new users who sign up for the service each day will download the accompanying content file. To put that in perspective, the average display ad online gets a click-through rate of less than one percent. It's not difficult to surmise why the entertainment industry would find this kind of engagement appealing.
BitTorrent also began rolling out banner ads within its client last year, and though it was met with resistance from a "very vocal minority" of its users, the ads have gotten higher-than-average click-through rates and are now serving upward of 5 billion impressions a month. Recently, BitTorrent aggressively promoted best-selling author Tim Ferriss' new ebook, The 4-hour Chef.
"In the first week he had 200,000 people downloading the content bundle he did, and over 89,000 went and visited his Amazon page," Mason says. "We couldn't see how many people bought the book from his Amazon page, but what we did see is that Tim hit the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today best seller lists, and 89,000 people hitting your Amazon page in your first week, I can tell you that's a really crazy number."
This was likely a welcome number for Ferriss, whose book had been boycotted by more than 1,000 independent bookstores who felt betrayed he had abandoned his traditional book publisher in favor of Amazon's ebook services.
Sometimes, especially for lesser known content creators, this promotional outpouring can almost be overwhelming.
Corrected on 02/11/13: An earlier version of this article misidentified Matt Mason’s title and BitTorrent’s platform.