Posted on January 4th, 2018
A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to make all the music I release available on a “Pay What You Want” basis (aka the Relying on the Kindness of Strangers model).
This decision came because the perceived value of music is changing, with streaming services offering vast libraries, why pay £10 for an album when you can have everything for a monthly £9.99 (or even free with adverts). I personally still value an album at £10 but value is subjective.
Also I’d rather make my music available to as many people as possible, not just people who are financially able to climb a paywall. Allowing the individual to pay a price that suited them felt like a fair way to approach it.
I didn’t know what to expect, and googling around I couldn’t find any hard data, especially when looking at smaller artists. Any data on “Pay What You Want” tends to be skewed guesswork about Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails approaches, and I don’t feel that either band can be considered truly representative of the music industry in general. (This is not a dig at either band, they just have huge audiences that span the pre and post digital eras… so calm your boots!)
With this post I hope to provide some data from a small artists perspective. In the interest of context and transparency there are some caveats that I’d like you to consider when looking at this data…
- This data is for 2017 only from my Bandcamp page, my releases were also available on traditional digital services.
- Marketing for my releases this year was exclusively social networking, I believe that if I had worked with a PR company the numbers would be higher BUT I don’t feel they would have skewed the overall results.
- I haven’t sold merch or performed live in this period.
- In the following screengrab I have removed 480 free downloads of the TSAK instrumental as it was only offered for free.
- Yes I used Paint to edit the screengrab.
- Revenue is show prior to transaction fees and Bandcamp’s 20% cut. I feel like looking pre-fees is clearer when talking about how individuals value music, although post-fees speaks more to the value of Bandcamp itself.
- Subsurface Circular was the soundtrack to a PC and iOS game, as people paid for the game that may have some effect on their willingness to buy the OST too.
- Also it should be noted that I have paying subscribers on my Twitch channel whom I actively encourage to take the music for free.
Let’s break this down…
540 Free downloads, 174 Paid Purchases, £920 (£734 after fees) revenue.
Average Paid Purchase: £5.29 (£4.22 after fees).
Combined Paid/Free average price paid: £1.29 (£1.03 after fees).
Also, some information not represented in the screengrab…
Highest individual album sale price was £33.33
Lowest individual album sale price was £0.50
External (Spotify/itunes et al) income for these releases was £115.24
Make of all that what you will, my personal opinion is positive and that “Pay What You Want” is a valid approach to selling music especially for a smaller artist. The average price of £5.29 is solid, even after fees it is more than I would have seen from iTunes or other traditional digital services. And although when combined with free downloads, the average drops dramatically, I don’t consider free listeners as lost sales, I see them more as new members of my audience who may support me in other ways, whether that be word of mouth or potential future sales.
When looking at this from the perspective of Bandcamp’s worth for this model, I need to be a little more anecdotal, in the deeper dive spreadsheet that can be downloaded, it shows where sales came from, and a fairly high percentage of these came from Bandcamp’s discovery algorithms or people finding my music in another users collections. This is great and I feel more than justifies Bandcamp’s 20% fee. The only real stinging point is Paypal fees on lower priced purchases, but we all know that Paypal run their monopoly on web payments aggressively.
One further anecdotal point, the deep dive doc also showed me that I need to market/PR what I do, whether that be paying a PR or emailing blogs etc directly, one post from The Line of Best Fit about Cherished, Overthrown released in 2016 still drives traffic to Bandcamp and ultimately sales.
So there it is. Hopefully if you’re reading this you’ll find it helpful, not all artists are alike, not all releases are the same, but maybe it’ll put a little more clarity into the “Pay What You Want” idea.