Paid Downloads: DIY, Bandcamp and iTunes

This post could be useful for bands and people buying music online. We accept that the majority of Internet users is unable or not willing to pay for mp3 downloads, that’s why we offer free downloads as well. But why would anyone buy downloads then? Number one: paid downloads are better quality, number two: you support the band.

We’ve been experimenting with selling music online for a few years now, and out of the zillion online stores there was only 2 where we could actually sell stuff: Bandcamp and the iTunes store. But before I compare these, let me start with the best option: DIY. The punk rock way is to set up your own webshop and sell downloads as cheap as you can afford. There’s free out-of-the-box webshop software out there to make this relatively easy. We use Prestashop, but there are others like Opencart, or eShop for WordPress, and quite a few more.

The next choice is Bandcamp. You upload your music in wav, and they convert it into a variety of hi-res formats from 320K mp3 to FLAC, Ogg and AAC, offering an unbeatable selection to buyers. And up until now, they didn’t take anything from sales. They will start to take 15% from August, which is still a reasonable deal, but it will make it more expensive than our own webshop. To put it simple for buyers: if you need our albums in 320K mp3 format, buy them in our webshop, if you want a different hi-res format, or just a single track, buy it in our Bandcamp shop.

But why would anyone buy music in the iTunes store? You need to pay twice as much as on Bandcamp, and you only get 256K mp3s. Less for more. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Still, a lot of people only buy music from iTunes, so bands want to get their music there. iTunes doesn’t deal directly with small labels or bands, so you’ll need an aggregator that collects a catalog of bands large enough for iTunes to deal with them.

The aggregator will get about $0.60-0.65 after each track iTunes sells for $0.99. Then the aggregator also takes its cut, which can be a percentage, an upfront fee, or both. Did I mention that there was also an encoding fee? (To cover script amortization, I guess.) Quarterly payments arrive 45 days after the quarter ended, and most aggregators also have a payment threshold, so you’ll have to wait a lot until you can get your money.

And if it didn’t sound enough like a rip-off so far, try switching aggregators. You’ll first have to be deleted from the iTunes catalog, which took A WHOLE FUCKING YEAR in our case. So you should think twice before signing up with one. We are at Routenote at the moment, they take 10%. If your band can sell a lot, an upfront fee model solution like the one offered by Reverbnation could be more suitable for you.

Bottomline is, iTunes is bad for bands and fans alike. It’s only good for Steve Jobs and the aggregators. Unfortunately, Steve is pretty good at marketing, and for a lot of people buying music online equals iTunes, so if you don’t want to miss out on them, you’ve gotta get on iTunes as well. Let’s just hope that more and more people will realize that buying downloads from the band’s own webshop or Bandcamp is the way to go. After all, most people are smarter than this guy here.