Education and Resources

The Long Tail of Internet Marketing longtail
by Toby Mountain

In an October 2004 article entitled The Long Tail, Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine presented a marketing philosophy that rocked the online retail world. The article espoused the notion that selling small volumes of obscure items to many customers can be more profitable than selling large volumes of a blockbuster. To economists it's an old paradigm known as frequency distribution, and one that and a few other internet retailers have practiced for years.

The "tail" part of the equation comes from obscure items on the lower end of the retail chain, linking to and feeding off of each other, to propagate sales of niche items that worldwide customers ordinarily can't find. Ever notice on Amazon when you select an item, four or five others pop up beneath it?

The Long Tail concept is an apt lesson for the music industry. Traditionally major labels have practiced the opposite strategy, setting their sights squarely on making gold and platinum records. An occasional hit album or song ensured yearend profitability and at the same time bankrolled less successful acts.

The problem with this model is that it is risky, particularly in a market that is fickle and moves in cycles. Witness the post disco collapse of the early 80's, the saturation of the CD market in the late 90's, or today's download free-for-all. It also means that, with a handful of major labels concentrating on breaking just a few acts, relatively few bands get exposure.

Along comes the internet, a mature and vibrant technology. Suddenly consumers have a vehicle to find any kind of music they wish and musicians have a potentially limitless audience. So how can the independent musician tap into this huge new global market?

In my previous blog I talked about four important marketing steps:

  1) "send out CDs and press kits to reviewers and radio stations.
2) "play out" as much possible.
3) build up an Email list.
  4) create an internet marketing strategy.

For this blog I would like to elaborate exclusively on the last step, #4.

You Can Do Some of this At Home...
Applying the Long Tail strategy basically means one simple thing: maximizing your presence on the world wide web. You may be an obscure artist, but the long tentacles of the internet can make you appear to be a known entity. Your objective is two fold: 1) spread yourself thin and attach yourself to others so that anybody in the world could potentially stumble across your music, and 2) set up a mechanism by which you can get compensated for your music. Both are not easy and involve lots of groundwork. But if you are willing to put in some long hours, read on and you could reap rewards.

When you're recording, you hire another musician to do a part you can't hack. Apply the same thinking to your internet strategy. Certain things you can do yourself; other things need to be delegated. First off, if you don't have a confident, telephone personality, you may need to hire a publicist/business manager. Like a music producer, this experienced person can offer helpful advice and navigate you through a multitude of marketing decisions.

Here are five essential things you need to do as part of your internet strategy:

  1. build a website (with music storefront)
  2. get placed on major music stores (iTunes, Amazon, etc.)
  3. foster links with other musicians active in your genre
  4. join and stay active on several music/social networks (Facebook, MySpace)
  5. set up, send out frequent email announcements to your fan base

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My guess is that several things on this list you won't be able to do yourself. A publicist/business manager can do some of it, but you will need a bigger entity, in lieu of a record company, to handle merchandising and marketing. That's where an internet distribution and marketing service comes in.

..but leave the rest to the experts.
Internet marketing for independents is the fastest growing segment of the industry. A myriad of providers have sprung up everywhere, promising all kinds of services. What began as a few communal websites selling independent CDs has now expanded into a plethora of service organizations doing everything from placing music on iTunes to hocking t-shirts.

So how do you choose a service that will help you and won't take you to the cleaners? First do your homework. Go over the list above to decide specifically what services you need to contract. Think about how much money you are willing to spend a month. When you interview them, ask some hard questions:

  1. Do you offer CD replication/digital file creation packages?
  2. Do you offer website creation and CD storefront merchandising? Is the maintenance done my me or you?
  3. Can you place my music with other internet retailers (iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc.)?
  4. What specific marketing campaigns do you provide? Can you show me some positive examples of successes?
  5. Can you create links to other music and musician sites?
  6. Will I have a customer rep whom I can contact regularly?

You should ask all these questions and get some clear answers before signing on with one company. Talk to other musicians to find out their experiences. The long list at the end of this blog will help you start your search. To give you a more detailed picture of what internet marketers provide, I'm now going to evaluate two companies, CD Baby and Nimbit. They represent two different approaches to getting your music out there.

CD Baby

Portland, Oregon based CD Baby advertizes themselves as "the largest online distributor of independent music." This ten year company is now a venerable institution, familiar to most musicians. Their business model is pretty simple: fill the void of traditional distribution/retail by offering warehousing, online retail sales, and distribution of music, both in CD or digital form to stores and online retailers. As espoused on their website, the economics can be pretty compelling:

"In a regular record or distribution deal, musicians only make $1-$2 per album, if they're ever lucky enough to get paid by their label at all. When selling through CD Baby, musicians make $6-$12 per album and get paid weekly."

Their history and results are also impressive: over 5 million CDs sold online to music fans and over $100 million paid out to artists.

The CD Baby website is laid out very intuitively. Half of the site is a storefront for the fan looking for independent music, divided into genre, new arrivals, and top sellers. The other half caters to the independent musician with an easy sign up area and a login/account information area for present clients. All of it is nicely integrated, letting the two sides of this artistic interchange have a good look at each other. It has a basic American 'rootsiness,' sort of like a flea market or a craft fair.

The CD Baby model certainly falls short of a traditional record company. They offer no marketing for the client beyond their own website. But I sense that they may be gearing up for a wider scope of services. Each time I emailed them, I got an automated response declaring they were staging a "re-launch" of their website.

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Framingham, MA based calls their business model a "direct to fan business platform." It is more expansive and complicated than the CD Baby model because it includes marketing.

"One of the challenges," says Patrick Faucher, senior manager, "is explaining exactly what Nimbit does. We know we can do a better job of telling the musician off the street how we can help them, "admits Faucher, "so we are in the process of revamping our website."

Indeed, when one visits, there is a certain amount of geeky techno-lingo that the musician has to wade through before he/she comes to grips with this kind of service: Your service rep is an ArtistAdvocate, your music is presented in a nimbitskin, and your virtual storefront is an OMT (Online Merchant Table). Once you get past the jive, you begin to understand the business model.

Faucher differentiates Nimbit from CD Baby in the following way: "We are focused on not just creating a record store on the web, but building a real fan base for the artist." The emphasis here is on fan. Nimbit seems to understand that, even in a world of free downloads, people are willing to fork over money for music, concerts and merchandise once they establish a connection with the artist.

To help make that connection, Nimbit is in the process of creating a "fan messaging center, " ala, going live by October 1. The fan messaging center will be available to clients who opt for either plans 2 or 3 of their three tiered client offering:

1. Nimbit Free: Upload your music yourself to a Nimbit storefront. No monthly fee, but you relinquish 20% of sales.

2. Nimbit Retail: Nimbit storefront, placement of your music on iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic and other retail vendors. Warehousing and selling CDs and merchandise. $9.95 a month.

3. Nimbit Retail+: Same as Nimbit Retail with additional features, custom storefront (nimbitSkin) with configuration tools for your own website. Multiple artists. $19.95 a month.

Neither CD Baby, Nimbit, or any of the internet music services listed below can fill the marketing shoes of a major label. None will be able to deliver the same marketing clout (advertising, airplay, etc.) and experience. But as the internet evolves, we will see these companies customize and improve their services to better fit the independent musician.

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Please email any comments you may have to Toby Mountain

List of Internet Music Marketing Services

Marketing and Merchandising
Evolvor Media is an online media firm providing website development, distribution and marketing.
IODA (Independent Online Digital distribution) is a digital distribution company for the global independent music community.
mymusicsuccess is a service offering music placement, artist development and music promotion.
Nimbit is an online company offering music selling, marketing and distributing and direct-to-fan services.
The Orchard distributes music from independent record labels and independent musicians to an international network of digital stores.

Distribution and Merchandising
CD Baby is an online distributor of independent music, specializing in CD sales and digital downloads.

Just marketing
Sneak Attack Media is an independent music marketing and promotions company based in New York.
On Target Media is an independent music marketing and promotions company based in New York, featured placement, blogs, social media, editorial, and contests.
Not Evil Music is a boutique artist management agency, offering web design studio and an online marketing, servicing newcomer bands and music companies.

CD and Digital Storefronts
Apple Music Store
launched through iTunes

Information Websites with links and resources
The Indie Guide

Oasis CD

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