Is Physical Distribution Worth It for Indies?
October 6, 2009
Justin Schmidt in DIY, Digital Music Marketing, Industry, indie, music business plan, music sales, record deal

The slow death of record stores and the increased opportunity afforded to emerging artists are two stories that we have all become familiar with. Distributors of CD’s have no doubt fallen on hard times as well. Given the cost of distribution, and the fact that record stores are disappearing from the map, does it make sense for Indie artists and labels to consider getting a traditional distribution deal as a major goal? 

Existing retailers are getting more exclusive. Rising “music retailers” Wal-Mart and Best Buy only stock that which they know will sell millions.  And in place of an increasingly bland music retail scene, artists are making it easier to get their music from them directly (or at least by buying their CD of amazon).

If an artist is able to break through and play SNL or grace the cover of Rolling Stone, then yes, I’m sure plenty of folks will wander into a record store asking for their album. But who goes into a store anymore and walks out with an artist they’ve never heard of? Sure, it happens. But should indie labels base their retail marketing strategy around hoping that passer-bys happen to think their cover art looks interesting?

Without a very large media campaign that only the largest of indie labels can pull off, why would an artist want their CD to be sitting on the shelf collecting dust? Why would an emerging indie label spend the resources and outlay necessary to put it there?

I’m interested in hearing people’s thoughts on at what point in their growth it makes sense for an indie label to pursue physical distribution. But in this day and age, it seems to me like that point is stretching further and further away, as alternatives continue to present themselves.

Update on October 7, 2009 by Registered CommenterScott Olson

As an independant label owner, I can tell you that most (if not all ) “brick and mortar” distributors aren’t interested in dealing with the little guy. The first question you’ll get from a distributor is, “how much marketing money do you have budgeted for this product ?” and if it’s not a number they are satisfied with, forget about it. CD Baby of course has a deal you can utilize, but that’s if you get a store interested in your products yourself which kind of defeats the purpose (why not form the relationship youself?). 

So in response to your question, the only sensible approach to the “Physical Distribution” issue for the Indie is to focus on where your bands (or your band) have enough fans in a particular city/town to warrant having CD’s in a store there, which requires a concentrated effort on each individual location you want to target based on how many times you plan on playing there. The advantage then goes to the band savvy enough to form a relationship with the store (guess list when you play there and such) to get them stoked enough to recommend your CD to walk-ins.  

That being said, your still getting a small percentage of your revenue from that whole process. But the upside is your fans think you’re cooler :)

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