Several writers have been talking in the blogs lately about the "stinginess" of record companies when it comes to sending promos to the press (Tom Hull, Scratch My Brain and be.jazz). Many small jazz labels have stopped sending jewel cases or Digipaks to reviewers in favor of CDs in slimline cases, wallets or envelopes. There is even a movement afoot to stop sending promos altogether while making the music and artwork available to writers digitally.
This is a sensitive issue for all concerned. We know that writers are not paid nearly enough (or at all) for the good work that they do, and of course everyone associated with jazz is struggling these days. And before all the wailing starts, let me just say up-front that if a writer wants a full Digipak of a particular title, just let us know and we'll send it to you. We love you, and we want you to have the real deal if it is something that seriously interests you and you want to write about it.
For 8 years Cryptogramophone dutifully sent full Digipaks to writers to show off our beautiful packages, and reward reviewers for their diligence. However, 500 digipaks (which is about how many we send to radio and press) is about 1/4 of our average sales on a title these days, and most of these end up on Amazon and in the used bins before a title is even released. Since Amazon is now our biggest customer, we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot by giving away so many finished Digipaks.
Then there is the issue of cost. The wallets we send out cost about a quarter apiece, as opposed to the Digipaks which can cost as much as $1 or more. It also costs twice as much in postage to send full packages as it does to send CDs without the Digipaks. With six releases annually, that's a cost of about $5,000 per year. With the loss of retail outlets like Tower, and sales down 20% each year for the last three years, independent jazz labels have to find ways to cut back just to keep our heads above water. We really can't afford to make beautiful, expensive packages anymore, but we love them, and we're reluctant to let go of the dream.
And finally, we know our music isn't for everyone. Someone who loves a Nels Cline CD, may not love a Myra Melford or Bennie Maupin title, so we know that even the most responsible writer will trade-in some of our promos. Plus, our percentage of reviews vs. CDs sent is about 5%. So, what's the sense in sending out full CDs when most of them will just be resold, thereby wiping out two sales for every CD we give away (the sale we lost, and the CD we can't sell), while having to pay $5,000 per year for the privilege!
By now writers should know that Cryptogramophone is committed to beautiful (and expensive) packaging as well as great music. They should also know that we will always send a finished copy to a writer if they ask for it. We understand the writer’s perspective on this issue, and hope they will try to understand ours. We will never deny a legitimate reviewer access to our Digipaks if they ask for it. It’s kind of like sex. We’ll even give it up on a first date, but you have to ask!