Talk all you like about the “feeling” of something physical, something tangible, about having a real object, about ownership. There’s a cold reality behind selling physical goods: it’s hard.
Before you can sell something, you need money to buy the physical stuff you want to sell. Digital “solves” that by making the good intangible, but in the material world, you need materials. Before “capitalism” came to mean some complex international system of speculative markets, this, of course, was what we meant: you got some capital to start a business selling stuff.
Then, once you have that stuff, you better hope you got it in the right quantity. Turns out more people want it than you thought? Too bad – they’ll have to wait for another run, and by then, maybe they don’t want it any more. Fewer wanted it? Now you’ve an even bigger problem: you’re out of the cash you spent to get the stuff, and you’ve got extra stuff you can’t sell. You’ve lost your shirt, and gained excess inventory.
Crowd funding could be seen as a way around all of this. It’s no accident that Kickstarter’s roots began in music – the service began as a way to fund performance and recording projects.
But Kickstarter itself isn’t really set up for someone wanting, say, to release an album on vinyl by funding the pressing. In fact, Kickstarter made themselves pretty clear in 2012, for any of you imagining they’re a preorder system:
Kickstarter Is Not a Store [Kickstarter Blog]
In case you had any doubt after that headline, they lead thusly: “It’s hard to know how many people feel like they’re shopping at a store when they’re backing projects on Kickstarter, but we want to make sure that it’s no one.”
Okay, fine, but – if you want someone to put out music on vinyl, then “risks and challenges” shouldn’t factor into the equation.
QRATES could be the link that would give independent artists and labels access to the vinyl record revival.
The just-launched service comes with a number of components. It’s a little like CDBABY and Kickstarter had a love child for vinyl enthusiasts.
It’s a pressing service. QRATES is “partnering” with “world-renowned pressing plants.” Basically, they’ll let you use an online tool to design the label and sleeve, upload your artwork, and then connect you with the companies to do pressing – as well as set costs and even estimate profit.
It’s a funding system. Ah, but you need to have money to pay for the pressing – and you need to figure out demand. So, your preorder is also how you fund the pressing.
It’s a store and promotion tool. Since you’ll rely on fans funding the pressing through preorders, you’ll want to give them more. So QRATES is also an online store, with digital and physical goods. Selling someone a t-shirt or concert ticket or offering a digital download while they wait on the pressing to arrive should then not be a problem.
Now, there are obviously some questions here. First, of course, it’ll be interesting to learn how long lead times are for production. Fans are going to need some digital goodies to tide them over, because they’ll be presumably waiting something on the order of 12 weeks for stuff to arrive. On the other hand, fans are already buying cassette tapes and other oddities from Bandcamp, and digital downloads mean they get something right away.
QRATES is also promising more than just the store, saying they’re a “platform” for increasing fanbase, but details are a bit sketchy there.
Also, the one element not in the picture: distribution. It seems that this is largely a platform for direct sales of vinyl, not getting records into shops. Then again, maybe there’s some way QRATES could work in conjunction with distribution.
Some other interesting details:
- You don’t have to be famous. Minimum pressing number is just 100.
- You don’t have to sell everything as a preorder. If you’ve got some cash, you can buy up your own copies. (“Some” can be funded this way; we’ll have to learn how many.)
- You can set funding timeframes and minimum thresholds, just like on Kickstarter. Dates go up to 90 days. And if you only have 30 preorders instead of the requisite 100 to press, you can cancel the project. (That adds a secondary bonus: it gives fans added motivation to pay for the preorder, since otherwise the record might not get pressed.)
- QRATES takes 15%. That’d be easier to swallow if there were distribution – I think you will want to compare self-funding to going through the site, for sure.
For more commonly asked questions, QRATES have just posted this to Facebook:
– Where are the records pressed and sleeves printed?
We currently have two pressing partners in Europe depending of the quantities and selected options. We are also actively working on opening accounts with more pressing partners around the world in order to offer the maximum of pressing options and prices.
– Does QRATES’s price includes vinyl mastering?
The prices appearing in our vinyl simulator include cutting from your mastered files. Once your QRATES project is completed, we will require files ready for vinyl cutting. We are also working on opening our own vinyl mastering center inside QRATES, which will be available in a few weeks.
– How do the shipping costs work? Can QRATES deliver my records to my customers?
Same here, in a few weeks we will be able to ship records to the people who pre-ordered your vinyl directly on your behalf, we are finalizing the prices and process right now, so stay tuned about this! For the time being, the records will be shipped to you, the artist or label, and we will provide you with all customers addresses to ship the records to them as well as the postage money you have set up in the “Settings” tab of the vinyl simulator, in the “Postage” field.
– How long does it take to press my records?
Right now the turnover is about 12 weeks for 100 and 200 copies, 8 weeks from 300 copies and all quantities will be about 8 weeks from september 2015.
– Can I order vinyl pressing without running a funding campaign?
For now, if you wish to order normal vinyl pressing please first build a funding project and self-purchase all of the copies at the pressing cost. A special place at QRATES to order normal pressing without building a campaign at first will be available soon, we are working on it!
– What happens if my campaign does not reach its goal?
Two solutions here: you can cancel your campaign and then your customers will not be charged for their pre-orders, or even better, you can self-purchase the remaining copies at the pressing cost and start pressing the record! You may also need some copies for your own website or to sell at your shows, so you can self-purchase copies of your own project at the pressing cost at any time during the campaign.
– You don’t ship to my country, why?
Our goal is to be able to ship to the maximum of places in the world and some more countries will be added soon, we will announce them here too.
For more details please also visit QRATES Help & FAQ center at http://support.qrates.com/hc/en-us
My friend Zuzana Friday Přikrylová has done an interview with these folks for DJ Broadcast; I’ll add that once it’s up and hope to talk to the founders, as well.
All in all, this looks interesting. I’d be curious to see whether digital fans could use the same platform for other purposes, or whether this sort of preorder model is applied to other stuff. (Perhaps Eurorack, for instance?)
What’s your take – is this something that’s of interest to you, as a fan or as a producer or label? Would this system work for you? Other questions for the folks at QRATES?
Check out the site (there are some projects there already):
And play around with this fun design tool:
Using the design tool, you can also see breakdowns for cost.
Hint: you’ll want more fans. Doing 1000 records costs only a little more than doing 100, and price-per-copy plummets to less than 3€.