The last holiday season for CDs?
Last week I read that 2007 would probably be the last holiday season for CDs. With the loss of deep catalog stores like Tower, and the emergence of branded retailers like Starbucks, many smaller labels are worried that the only CDs available in stores will be mass marketed pop titles. I don't think we've quite arrived at that point yet, but with retail sales plummeting 20% per year, and downloads barely taking up the slack, what's an independent jazz label to do? About the only venues for selling independent jazz CDs would seem to be the label's website, artist sales, a few independent shops, amazon.com, a few chain stores, and websites like downtownmusicgallery.com, northcountryaudio.com, jazzloft.com, squidco.com, and our own indiejazz.com.
While it may still be a few more years before brick and mortar sales diminish to the point of inviability, this doesn't mean that CDs or CD-like objects will disappear forever. Artists, fans and collectors still want them, and CDs are becoming less expensive to produce. However a change in perspective may be all that's required to find and develop new markets for physical sales. In the coming years, selling CDs may become more like selling water than selling widgets. Water is all around us and people can get it for free, but some folks will always pay a few extra bucks for fresh, clean, clear water in a bottle because someone convinced them it's better. We know our CDs offer greater value than downloads. Therefore it becomes our responsibility to educate people about this and point them to our website. People who download our music will probably appreciate the audiophile sound, beautiful packages, and great liner notes, and other goodies that come with the physical CDs. We just have to convince them of that.
Ultimately our job as a label is to represent our artists, and to actively seek-out an audience for their music. The musicians we represent create music on the edge, so they may never break through to the top tiers of media awareness. That means we must educate people about our artists through creative online marketing, and by word of mouth. If we can find, develop, and engage our audience, we can ask them to support our music directly by buying products from our websites. Pound for pound, direct sales can generate more income per unit than wholesale sales, and once we know who our customers are, we can continue to market to them directly. Together with downloads, direct CD sales can be a powerful way for independent jazz labels to make up diminishing brick and mortar sales.