On September 9, the music-hosting service Bandcamp.com (where a lot of netlabels and electronic musicians have made their home) announced a change in its pricing policy, specifically in regard to free downloads, which had previously been unregulated (a la the Internet Archive, at archive.org). Subsequently, over a certain threshold, the musician (or label) would be required to pay for additional free downloads, ranging from three cents per download to half that amount, depending on the payment plan.
The immediate response by musicians was such that Bandcamp quickly revised its announced plan, providing monthly allotments of free downloads, rather than one initial batch.
I weighed in, after some reflection, on what Bandcamp might need to do next, and have since then checked in with musicians and label proprietors, to see how they’re responding to the change:
• Thomas Park, best known for his work as Mystified: “the allotted download amounts should suffice”:
Basically, for me, the new configuration, with 200 downloads for free a month, should work out fine, as long as I keep my number of releases limited. The reason for this is that I get a lot more “plays” (streamed audio) than downloads. Unlike archive.org where a download is a click away, Bandcamp has a bit of a complex downloading utility. I think it causes some people to prefer streaming to downloading there. So, as things stand, the allotted download amounts should suffice for my purposes. Since I like the simplicity of the interface in general at Bandcamp, and also the ability to obtain flac as well as mp3 files, if desired, I think I will stay put.
• Leonardo Rosado of the FeedbackLoop netlabel (feedbacklooplabel.blogspot.com), who forwarded an edited version of what he’d posted at PublicSpace Lab (lab.pubspaces.com): “Bandcamp is rejecting the foundation of [Creative Commons] licensing”:
I started using Bandcamp because it offered the chance to serve FeedbackLoop Label purpose of collecting some donation / pay what you want for a release, in order to gather money to release physical editions (one of the objectives of FbL). What I think is that the main appeal of Bandcamp was the integration and offering of several different business models for artists and labels, which in this shady days of commercial music is the best idea to implement flexible systems, that can shift quickly and adapt to change. By simply “ending” the Free Downloads what will possibly happen is the loss of artists / netlabels that can in the future be using their Payed Services going after other services. And what is really interesting (from a negative perspective) is that Bandcamp is rejecting the foundation of CC licensing in music, which is their biggest mistake. When a lot of people is going for CC licenses in everything (music, writing, photos, video) Bandcamp is going the opposite way, embracing the Copyright system.
• Diego Bernal, San Antonio beatmaker: “They didn’t go Napster on us”:
I have mixed feelings about it. Bandcamp is a great way to get your music out — it’s easy to use, nearly bugless (in my experience) and professional. Thus, I’m not particularly happy about it, but I think that in the context of moving to a pay model the terms are relatively reasonable, especially the monthly “recharge” and in light of the fact that downloading an album counts as one download, regardless of the number of tracks. As much as we all like the service, I don’t know that we’re entitled to it. There’s no right to Bandcamp, it’s just that no one likes to be surprised. There is something to be said about free music. Some artists, like myself, depend on the site to distribute our records. For us, it’s just about getting the word out, not making money. For popular, high-traffic artists, this change could pose a problem. They may have to reorganize, and I don’t know of any alternatives that are better, honestly. It’s certainly not unworkable, just potentially more inconvenient. I don’t like it, but I also don’t blame Bandcamp for doing it. They didn’t go Napster on us.
• Aboombong (aka J.C. Thorne): “For the kind of music I make, that is a good problem to have”:
I like bandcamp and will continue to use it because it supports my “name your price with no minimum” policy. I think Bandcamp has done a good job with their new policy protecting artists with smaller audiences while putting together a business plan that will allow them to survive and (I would hope) eventually make a profit without getting taken advantage of by popular artists looking to cut corners on a large “free give away” style promotion. As currently implemented the new policy will only effect a few hundred of their more popular artists. As aboombong is one of the artists right on the cusp of the level of popularity that would be impacted, I crunched the numbers to make sure it made sense to keep using the service. For aboombong, between 6 and 7 percent of people who download music name a price above zero with a range from 1 cent for an album (all of which goes to paypal, so I am not sure what the point is) to over 20 dollars for a single track (average about 4 bucks an album paid if anything is paid). In the end, when you factor in free downloads, I make about 25 cents per download (most of which are full album downloads). Since band camp charges $20 dollars for 1000 free downloads (2 cents a pop), at my current return, about 95 paid downloads covers the cost of 1000 free downloads (factoring in the 15% profit share that goes to Bandcamp). But, of course, that only becomes an issue when free downloads exceed 200 per month. For the kind of music I make, that is a good problem to have. For those who have significantly more downloads than I do and don’t want to go with a name your price strategy, well, there is always the internet archive. The short version of all of this…much ado about not much, but I hope it will lead to Bandcamp-like distribution replacing the current big-boys in the industry. Not too many time in the past has 85% of a sale gone directly to the artist. Certainly a step in the right direction.
Read the Bandcamp announcement at blog.bandcamp.com.