Getting into retail

<a href="http://humphreysandkeen.bandcamp.com/album/the-overflow">Bright Shining Star by Humphreys &amp; Keen</a>

You could reasonably argue that there have been better times to get into music retail. All the same, I’ve taken a very small step towards that this week on behalf of some New Zealand friends of mine who have recorded my favourite album of the past five years: The Overflow by Humphreys and Keen.

I was looking for a way to sell vinyl from my site. My friend (and fellow H&K fan) Owen had arranged a gorgeous limited edition vinyl pressing, cut at Abbey Rd studios in London, and I enthusiastically offered to do the online retail.

The sale of digital downloads was no problem whatsoever, because of Bandcamp. And yes, I’m an evangelist for Bandcamp – but with very good reason. It’s brilliant (and I’m on their board of advisors, if you need the disclaimer).

But having set up a physical online retail store in a completely different realm, I know that it’s not something to be taken lightly. It can be a mammoth task. But I have just one album to sell – and I wanted to do it from my personal website. I’m not building HMV or Tower Records here.

Plugging in the shop
The solution I went for, coincidentally, is another product of my homeland. Instinct software have created WP-ecommerce, which is a free plugin for WordPress. I knew people who’d had difficulties with it in the past, and I’m aware of the criticism that it gets as a buggy, bloated and slow bit of code – but I thought it was worth a shot.

After all – free.

So I installed it, and I admit there was a bit of setup and tweaking required, but perhaps precisely because I’m only selling the one physical item, I’m not using any fancy features and there’s nothing complicated to be done – it seems to work fine.

I’ve even sold a record. Sent off the free download code from Bandcamp too, so my shopper could listen to the album in full lossless quality while he waits for the vinyl to turn up. All good.

There are alternatives to WP ecommerce, of course. Of the ones I’ve encountered – Shopp looks pretty great. Costs a little, but probably well worth it if you’re going to be selling physical products, merchandise and so on.

Don’t take my advice
There’s some really great discussion going on over at Music Think Tank about how to sell music from your own website and engage fans outside the walls of MySpace.

Eric Herbert makes a convincing case for owning your data, controlling your own sales and tracking your stats.

I break several of Eric’s rules (though like him, I’m a complete fan of WordPress). I’m not that excited about my stats, and although I have Google Analytics installed, I haven’t looked at it for a year or more. But then I’m doing something quite different here, and the core of his advice is really solid.

Go read it.

Retail riches await
I’m not going to make a fortune selling the wonderful Humphreys and Keen record. I guess that’s mostly because I’m not taking a cut. Instead, I’m passing the full £15 on vinyl sales on back to the guys.

My shop-keeping friends would tell me I’m doing it wrong.

But this is an important and meaningful record for me, and the guys aren’t really in a position to be doing it themselves (one of them’s at sea for a good six months of the year, for a kickoff…). And I quite like the idea of fans stepping in and doing stuff like this to be helpful. We’re not talking millions here, after all.

But then getting into music retail’s probably not the greatest get-rich quick scheme going these days anyway…

Shameless plug
I’d love you to at least hear The Overflow. It’s one of those records that I happen to think improves people’s lives just a little bit. Perhaps that’s just me and the associations I have with the sound of my homeland.

You can listen to the whole album streaming from my personal site where I’m selling the vinyl, on their Bandcamp page – and, of course, at the top of this post.

And feel free to have a play with the look and feel of the shopping cart thing. I’m pretty impressed with it for a free plugin.

Love to hear your thoughts… and go get your stuff on Bandcamp already, would you?

13 thoughts on “Getting into retail

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Humphreys and Keen make nice music, how did you come across them?

  2. Dubber says:

    I was a fan of the Able Tasmans, their former band on the Flying Nun label, and I worked at a radio station in Auckland called bFM in the late 80s, where pianist Graeme Humphries (aka broadcaster Graeme Hill) was the breakfast presenter.

    But it was Mark Roach, now Business Development Manager at Phonographic Performances NZ, who first introduced me to this album.

  3. Hi Andrew,

    I think wordpress is fantastic as are the plugins. The plugin you have used looks great, very seemless. I have just created a site for someone and used the eshop plugin for wordpress. This too is very good and enables full client management.

    Regards
    Lee

    P.S. I have been asked to be on a panel at Unconvention and you are the moderator :)

  4. Daniel says:

    I have to keep hatin’ on Instinct’s E-commerce plugin. DO NOT USE IT. It may work for some people, but it is a giant, buggy mess of software. And I don’t mean it is kind of buggy, it is a disease addled crippled mess.

    The feature set is great, don’t get me wrong. If it worked, it would be a nice piece of software. But there is no support for it (a little via forums where they seem to address a small fraction of problems). Seriously, just look at the forums if you don’t believe me. There are more problems posted there than for any software I have ever used in my life. You’ll also notice how many significant problems are posted that are straight out ignored.

    I have lost many dozen hours of work due to this shopping cart. Its nearly brought my WordPress site down at one point. I spent many hours troubleshooting problems that never got resolved. I am not a coder, but am very, very tech savvy. I have installed and maintained dozens of WordPress installs with countless different plugins. This is the worst piece of software I have ever used, hands down. All I can say is if you decide to use it, it is a HUGE gamble. It may work, but it may also break your site and cost you endless head aches. It is even worse when it starts having problems after you have been using it for a while and then you have to take you shopping cart offline. I don’t recommend it.

  5. Daniel says:

    Also, I am exploring alternatives to Instinct’s software now. Shopp seems nice, but I’m hesitant to pay for it without being able to install it and test it first. My bad experiences with shopping carts has me a little gun shy.

    I used Zen Cart for a long time. It was VERY reliable, but didin’t integrate with my WordPress install at all and is very complicated to administer. However, I never had any problems with it once it was going. I had to abandon it, because I only had to login and do admin work once every few months (add a new release, for example), and by then I forgot how to use everything. And it was complicated enough that this became too tedious to continue on with. If it were integrated with WordPress a little better I might have stuck with it, or even go back to it now.

  6. Chris says:

    I like Bandcamp a lot, but I wish there was some way to browse or search. I particularly want to know about NZ bands on there, but unless a band refers me from their site I just won’t know they’re there.

  7. kcortez says:

    Andrew,

    Yes BandCamp is excellent (say hey to Joe H) for me. Some great advice here and I’ve got a few more for folks to consider

    FoxyCart (http://www.foxycart.com/) is built by webdesigners, not ecommerce folks – and it shows. Very sweet flow and integration.

    e-Junkie (http://www.e-junkie.com) is also pretty simple to work though for a beginner.

  8. Brilliant as always, I’ve now got my store on bandcamp, and I’ve been happily listening away to The Overflow.

    The production is fantastic…lot’s of lush strings, must have either cost a fortune or taken ages!

    Impressive functions on bandcamp, perhaps some more options on embedding into your on website could help, but I’m ok with linking away because of the functionality.

    Only issue with your email out this morning is that my girlfriend lost another Sunday to me tweaking! I say thanks…she says ‘mmmm’

  9. Mike says:

    Hey Andrew,

    I’m glad you gave a little plug to Bandcamp. I’ve had my band’s music on there for a while now, and I can’t give them enough praise. It’s a fantastic service for musicians and it seems to be getting better every day!

  10. Dan Milward says:

    Thanks for talking about our WP e-Commerce Plugin.

    Our understanding for a while now has been that musicians want there own website to express themselves creatively so we think WP e-Commerce is a nice option – unlike the other WordPress Plugins we have built a MP3 player which I think that is pretty important for selling your tunes.

    Our next plan for the MP3 module is to allow the ability for the musician to integrate with iTunes for the sale of music if they choose. I’d also like to explore what we could do to integrate our services with Bandcamp.

    Andrew, Would you be willing to post a new article with the sole purpose of collecting feedback on making WP e-Commerce even better for musicians?

  11. MartinT says:

    Really nice track. Also, as a general rule WordPress is pretty powerful. Not used the WP e-Commerce stuff but there doesn’t seem to be too much you could possibly want to do with a website that WordPress doesn’t have a plug-in for.

  12. raphael says:

    I use posterdisc.com for everything I release these days. Im not into collecting data from people who buy my records from the label. I don’t think they like it either. If they want to know about new releases they ask to be added to my mailing list.
    Posterdisc.com rules because its totally cheap, simple as all hell and doesn’t have any sort of graphic style associated with it. Now all they do is digital download cards *and stickers- but the idea is you design them, you figure out how many times they are good for, and you print them out however you like and stick them on or in anything. Now I can release more cassettes and posters and t-shirts as albums. they rule!

  13. Dave says:

    Thanks for the tips!

    I’ve been looking at the possibility of using Bandcamp.

    I’m currently formulating all the information that I’ve been gathering — including Andrew Dubber’s fabulous e-book — into a flexible plan of action.

    I was feeling uptight about “linking out” to Bandcamp…but perhaps it’s actually helpful in terms of building my web presence.

    Thanks again!