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What Independent Book Publishers Can Learn From Alternative Music Publishing
Since the first book came cranked out of Gutenberg’s printing press, not much has changed for the reader.
A book is still a collection of printed pages. You don’t need any special equipment to read it. You can use it anywhere, lend it to your friends, sell it or even use it as a door-stopper. That is, if you didn’t buy the digital edition…
For the last few years, the digital book has continued to grow in importance. And in its wake a whole industry is changing.
With the new Kindle family, Amazon is taking the next step towards becoming the biggest e-book seller in the world. Amazon sells their devices relatively cheap because it knows the real revenues come when people start filling their Kindles with content from Amazon’s infinite aisles.
In many ways, Amazon seems to be doing to books what iTunes did to music, which is making the process of buying ebooks more accessible and affordable than ever before.
Consumers are happy if they can buy a song or a book for $0.99. So they keep coming back.
But that’s not the end of the story.
The Anachronism Of Vampire Tactics
iTunes for example keeps 30% of each song sold through their platform, Amazon retains up to 65% for each e-book sale (for low price volumes).
So, while consumers are profiting from low prices and huge selections, music labels or book publishers lose quite a bit to the market owners, so that when they, after deducting their own costs, pay out their writers or musicians, not much is left.
In a world where selling books or music depended on keeping factories running and distributing the goods by air, land and sea, it was understandable that between consumer and content creator, a lot of energy (and costs) goes into this physical process.
Nowadays, however, digital multiplication and distribution of a record or book is almost zero. In other words: There is no reason why marketplace owners and labels/publishing houses need to get richer and richer while artists have to live off the crumbs.
Theoretically, musicians and writers can connect directly to listeners and readers, nowadays.
Why do I say theoretically? Because it isn’t really possible? No.
Because it demands a complete shift of the way we look at the publishing process.
In short, it is very much possible. But we have to put on a new pair of glasses.
Managing Bands For The Sake Of The Music
In 2006, Cathy Pellow saw that one her favorite bands, RX bandits, was nearing its demise. Frustrated by bad experiences with the music industry, the ska-punk outfit was ready to throw in the towel and never look back.
But Pellow, a big fan, didn’t let them. Instead, she started managing them, backed up by her production and work with Refused TV.
Sargent House was born. And after RX Bandits, many more bands joined its roster.
But Sargent House is not just another label. As quoted in Wonka Vision, Pellow doesn’t think of Sargent House as a music label but “as a management company that has the finances and whereabouts to be able to help their bands become bigger and better, which, after all, is a manager’s job.”
And instead of disconnecting this managing and nurturing from the process of making and selling records, planning tours, etc., Sargent House does it all under one roof.
Pellow said: “We do it all differently with the mindset that our bands are our partners and we all really believe in each other.”
To get a feeling of just how differently, check out their artists on sargenthouse.com.
Each of the artists has its own tumblr. From there, you can find out more about the bands and get links to their music. Typically, the artists have their digital music on iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. (they also offer vinyl and CDs, by the way)
iTunes and Amazon are standards. What is interesting, though, is that they use Bandcamp, and how they do it.
Free Full-Length Streaming Albums
One of Sargent House’s biggest names arguably might be Omar Rodriguez Lopez, the guitarist and mastermind behind the band The Mars Volta. While his band is signed under Warner Bros. and allows him to put out only one record per year, Omar Rodriguez Lopez has a special agreement with them that allows him to put out more stuff under his solo-name, independently of Warner Bros.
On his Bandcamp linked on Sargent House you can find 30 of his music albums.
And you can listen to all of them for free, full-length!
It seems to be a Sargent House policy to do it like this, for most of their bands have full-length streams out on Bandcamp.
You can listen to the albums as often as you like and then buy them, with one click, without registering, and get the download in MP3, FLAC, or “just about any other format you could possibly desire.”
Personally, I can only say that this approach + offering awesome music has made me excited again about buying digital music. Although I have released some of my own songs on Amazon Mp3 and iTunes, I never bought a single song, there… It just doesn’t feel right. There’s not enough flexibility. I don’t want to be forced into using the iTunes software or the Amazon MP3 Downloader application just to purchase a song,while wondering how/if your payment will ever reach the actual artist.
Nah. Bandcamp feels a lot better (purchasing is often illogical), so I buy my music there because I get to choose how I pay, what I download and of course, I get more than a measly 30 minute preview.
Sure, Bandcamp needs to stay alive, as well, so they take 15% off artists’s sales but it’s still less than what iTunes and Amazon takes.
Also, each band has their own page and design with Bandcamp instead of a few lines in some corporately designed store-front.
Sargent House obviously is a story in itself and I recommend checking out their great music.
But independent book publishers can learn (at least) three things, here:
- allow people to choose how they want to purchase books: Barnes & Nobles, Amazon Kindle Store, your own website
- instead of offering the book in only one version, offer many: PDF, ePub, Mobi, etc.
- publish great stuff that people can’t get anywhere else!
Regarding Bandcamp, I’m curious if there is such a service for books, as well? Also, I’ve been wondering: Would it make sense for ebook sellers to also allow readers to preview 100% of the book for free or does this principle not work for books because instead of music that will be listened to over and over again, most books are read only once and will not be bought if they can be read for free?
Feel free to leave a comment below and share what you think.