What's more, Reznor has remained commercially successful. For instance, "Ghosts" took in $1.6 million in revenue in just two weeks -- even though Reznor invited users to download nine of the 36 tracks for free and made the rest available at pay-what-you-wish pricing, albeit with a $5 minimum.
So when the musician gets into a dispute with Apple, industry observers take note. This weekend, it came to light that Apple rejected his latest app, an application that makes it easier for the group's fans to connect with each other. Among other capabilities, the app allows people to upload photos from concerts to the group's Web site, according to PC World.
An Apple employee sent a message to Reznor stating that the store could not approve the app because it contains "objectionable content" -- which the company defines as "any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple's reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users."
The note said the objectionable material was "The Downward Spiral" -- the name of the group's 1994 album and of one of the tracks. Reznor responded that the album "The Downward Spiral" is not available in the app, while the song titled "The Downward Spiral" is in a podcast that can be streamed to the app.
Reznor assumes Apple's problem with the song is that it has swear words -- though that hasn't stopped iTunes from selling the tracks. In fact, he's quite riled by the apparent double standard.
"I'll voice the same issue I had with Wal-Mart years ago, which is a matter of consistency and hypocrisy," Reznor writes on the group's message boards. "Wal-Mart went on a rampage years ago insisting all music they carry be censored of all profanity and 'clean' versions be made for them to carry. Bands (including Nirvana) tripped over themselves editing out words, changing album art, etc to meet Wal-Mart's standards of decency -- because Wal-Mart sells a lot of records. NIN refused, and you'll notice a pretty empty NIN section at any Wal-Mart."
To some observers, Apple's decision here reflects a larger problem with its app store -- which is that the company's policies appear arbitrary. "This happens over and over again -- one app gets approved, another app doesn't, and there's no obvious reason for the rejection," Jeremy Horwitz, editor-in-chief of the independent iPod/iPhone news site iLounge, tells MediaPost.