Indie Music

Indie Sup Pop Considers Radical New Sales Model: Pay For The Toy And We’ll Give You The Music Free

image from From early Nirvana through Mudhoney and on to Fleet Foxes and The Postal Service, indie label Sup Pop has been putting out interesting and often fabulous music for decades.  But just like the rest of the image from recorded music industry, they're having trouble these days getting people to pay for it.

To combat the problem, the venerable indie label is considering flipping the basic music sales proposition on its head. "Although Sub Pop is primarily known for its many fine artists and their really very fine recordings (also grunge), we're not at all opposed to expanding into the fine world of t-shirts, hats, beer cozies, and key chains," says Sub Pop general manager, Megan Jasper. "We used to give many of these tchotchke items away for free in an effort to entice people to pay for the music, but we're considering flipping our strategy so that people pay for the toy and receive the music for free."

Indie bands have already been experimenting with the concept of bundling downloads with a physical item, but this would be the first time that a substantial label made the shift.

Selling "A Thing Associated With The Music"

Jeff Kleinsmith, Sub Pop's longtime art director already has a few unusual ideas for bringing Jasper's sales strategy to market.  "Regardless of age, there's always going to be people who prefer to touch and make stuff that's like, physical," says Kleinsmith. "CDs may end up being little books. We've talked about this at work, where you might spend the time to do a cool package, it just doesn't have a disc in it. And instead of a disc, you've got a little piece of paper that says 'go here for your download.' So you're getting everything about it except for that plastic disc, you know. I would love to see that."

But Kleinsmtih's creative juices are just getting warmed up, "That could be a magazine, it could be a shirt, it could be a sticker on a banana, it could be anything, really, that has that download. It could be a poster, a thing associated with this music."

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  1. Another good example of the entrepreneurial spirit required to keep afloat in the digital music arena.
    As the great Walt Disney said, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional” – SubPop are managing the change in the new music industry well, and will surely continue to prosper in the future because of it.

  2. They’ve got the right idea – Harper Collins’ web-focused imprint just released a music/book collaboration with an indie artist. Labels would be smart to pair up with other creative companies for books, apparel, and other tangible products to increase the value of their artists’ brands.

  3. God bless Sub Pop. Given the remarkable standard of quality they have established over the years, and the intense followings that bands on their label harbor, I would like to think that they of all labels would find (and deservedly so) success with this model.

  4. When Sonic Youth appeared on Gossip Girl, they sold a Starpower poster bundled with the download of the acoustic Starpower track that appeared on the show. I think it was a smart way to convert .99 cent download sales into $15.00 sales.

  5. See to me this is a shift in what is really important. Sub Pop is a label and they need to make money, I understand this but shifting the focus from purchasing music and associating value in that to having the consumer purchase a product and add music as a secondary factor in a package is not the right way to go. It could make music even less valued by the current generation as a product than it is presently. Why not focus on leading more engaging initiatives for monetizing music like partnering with ISPs and making a profit from file sharing? I honestly think that is the future because no matter how profitable an idea like this may seem at this point in time it could have a more outspread effect in the future.

  6. Glad to hear it! Our band Boy in the Bubble has been doing this for the past year. We sell anything from old LPs to dollar-store kaleidoscopes with download codes attached. We also did a physical book with a download code instead of a CD release. It wasn’t that hard – am surprised more small bands don’t do it on their own.

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