Off the Record: Bandcamp and Independent Commerce
The Physical Format
I like vinyl records a lot. I spend endless hours buying and listening to music in a variety of formats, but there is something inherently cooler about LPs. The ritual of opening gatefold jackets, placing a record on the platter and lowering the tone arm means I have 15-20 minutes of static peace. Then I have to get up and do it again. It’s amazing.
To my teenage son, this makes little to no sense. In fact, a recent visit from his buddy Max had me baffled. He walked into our living room and saw all my albums and he said, “Mr. Stabile, what are those things?” I told him they were records, and he asked, “You mean like the ones in the doctor’s office?” Admittedly, I was at a loss. When I gave him a rudimentary understanding of how records work, Max’s response was simple, “I’d rather just download or stream music from the internet.”
Off The Record
In an age where CD sales are diminishing with vinyl sales on the rise, file sharing debates ensue, and we see companies continue to pop up with new means of sharing/streaming music. File streaming continues to grow but for those who want tangible formats, Bandcamp provides a service where independent artists can offer streaming and downloads of full albums, as well as physical formats, such as CDs and vinyl records.
Bandcamp was founded in 2007 by former Oddpost co-founders Ethan Diamond and Shawn Grunberge. With the help of a couple of programmers (Joe Holt and Neal Tucker), they launched their music store in 2008. By 2012, Bandcamp sales were up to 12.6M dollars.
What is it that drives so many independent artists to use Bandcamp’s service offerings? It’s simple. Bandcamp is easy to use and offers artists the ability to sell their songs/albums at a set price. Or, artists can also offer customers a “name your price” option, which is often far below the market value found on competitor websites.
Another intriguing aspect about Bandcamp is their revenue sharing model. Only 10-15% of the commerce conducted on the site goes to Bandcamp, the rest goes directly to the artists, who are paid via PayPal. Despite Bandcamp’s revenue share coupled with PayPal fees, independent artists still net more in this model than by using similar competitive offerings. It’s obvious why so many bands have been gravitating toward Bandcamp.
In June of 2013, Bandcamp made the necessary jump into the mobile app space to appeal to a broader user base and fans now have the ability to download songs immediately to their mobile devices.
What’s interesting about Bandcamp’s model is they provide consumers the ability to stream full songs, rather than 30-90 second sound bytes. Consumers can then buy single songs or whole albums and can place them on as many devices as they choose, or just use the Bandcamp app.
In a world where consumers want media (art, video, music, movies) in multiple formats on a variety of different devices, Bandcamp provides a different reach, one that is not limited to digitally formatted music, nor is limited to a specific region of the world. Over half of Bandcamp’s purchases come from overseas consumers.
Think about this—Bandcamp provides independent artists the ability to sell music and other merchandise in a manner that is financially favorable to artists. Simultaneously, Bandcamp has essentially created an online record store. Consumers can browse album artwork, listen to entire records, and even order physical copies of albums that come with automatic digital downloads at lossless rates.
For light weight/no weight music fans, multiple digital files options exist for buyers all over the world. For overseas fans, they have instant access to music they might never find in local records stores. In essence, Bandcamp has created an international community of consumers who now have easy access to independent bands without having to wait (or hope) that larger distribution chains will eventually get these titles in their local record stores or online music retailers.
So there may be wisdom in Max’s sentiment—streaming/downloading is what many consumers want. But, old warhorse collectors also have the ability to buy physical and digital formats through the same means of independent commerce.
My suspicion though is that most consumers want more than just music. They want a community of likeminded folks who share in a common cultural linguistic. In order to be a successful business you have to satisfy the needs of many different types of consumers. Bandcamp is a step in that direction.
Click here to find out more about Bandcamp
Jeremy is an unabashed bibliophile. At one time he thought he wanted to be a Benedictine monk, but instead he opted for degrees in Philosophy and Theology and running his own record label. When he’s not at watchLAB, you can find him rapping about the brilliance of The Wire and Deadwood or buried in a swath of hardboiled crime novels.
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