Can QRATES Make Vinyl Pressing More Accessible?
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.
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€.