<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?