How To Sell Vinyl Without Buying In Bulk

Vinyl: Looks Matter
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As overall album sales decline across the music industry as a whole, vinyl sales have been skyrocketing. In 2015, sales of vinyl records in the United States grew by 30 percent, bringing the total number of records sold to just about 12 million – up from 9.19 million in 2014. Personally, I don’t buy CDs anymore (don’t have a CD player) or download songs on my iPhone (don’t have any space left), but I buy vinyl frequently (and stream in my car and at the gym). I probably average a few records a month. There are other music lovers out there like me who adore the fidelity and the overall experience of vinyl. Physically sifting through a vinyl collection to find the perfect record for the moment, sliding out the package, pulling out the sleeve, and then the record, placing it on the player, dropping the needle, sitting down with the liner notes, browsing the lyrics, exploring the credits, admiring the artwork. It’s a ritual. Something, unfortunately no streaming service has understood. Music is so much more than just a sonic experience.

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The biggest mistake of my last Kickstarter campaign for my most recent album can be summed up with one word: vinyl. I set my Kickstarter goal for $10K and ended up raising $13,544. This covered about 75% of my recording budget. Of course I budgeted for recording costs, production and shipping, however when I budgeted vinyl I only looked up the costs for a single LP package. I didn’t realize my album, when all was said and done, would be longer than 44 minutes – the maximum length for a decent sounding pressing (22 minutes per side or so – however my mastering engineer recommended not exceeding 18 minutes per side because of my album’s production). My album ended up being 55 minutes in length – requiring a double LP and doubling my costs. Vinyl is the sole reason why I had to delay my album’s release nearly a full year as I figured out a way to come up with the $4,400 I needed to just press (and ship to me) 300 records.

And, unfortunately, there is no option in Kickstarter (or PledgeMusic or IndieGoGo) that enables stretch goal reward options. Meaning, if I raised $15,000 that would unlock the $30 vinyl preorder, however if I raised anything under $15,000 the $30 vinyl preorder (reward) option would be unavailable. Backers could select the $30 vinyl preorder for their 1st choice and a different option for their 2nd choice if the stretch goal wasn’t reached. But this currently doesn’t exist on any of the platforms.

But now there’s a better way.

QRATES is a company founded by Yong-bo Bae in Japan in April 2015. It is basically a crowd-funding platform for vinyl.

An artist, label or blog can launch a project with a set threshold (say, 300 records), and once that number is met everyone gets their records. The best part is QRATES does all fulfillment. Instead of shipping the 300 records to the artist’s door, they ship each record individually out to the customer. No money down from the artist.

Pressing plants QRATES currently works with are GZ Media in the Czech Republic, MPO Group in France and Toyokasei in Japan and the average vinyl turnaround is about 8 weeks (which is quite fast in the vinyl world – my turnaround was 3 months). They did mention they are working on bringing on more pressing plants (especially in the US – their number 1 market).

QRATES just announced a new feature, Store Delivery, where they now allow physical record stores to preorder your vinyl (at wholesale costs) for their stores. QRATES partnered with HMV, Technique, Jet Set in Japan and Juno Records in the UK which account for a total network of over 200 record stores worldwide.

The blog Noon Pacific launched their QRATES limited edition vinyl campaign stating “We’ve gathered our favorite up-and-coming artists for our first vinyl record! Get this limited edition LP and support the artists who provide the soundtrack to your week.” It has met its 500 unit threshold and still has 17 days left on the campaign.

Project creators (artists, labels, blogs) can customize their vinyl package through the QRATES “Vinylize” simulator. The simulator will give the creator real-time price quotes and customization options. It lists the price-per-copy along with the total cost (if you would like to ship an additional amount directly to you to sell on the road or something). The creator can then set whatever price they’d like to charge their customers. So, for instance, if the wholesale cost is $13.00 per copy, the creator could set the price to the customer at $20 and make $7 per sale. If their threshold is set at 300 and it’s met, the creator earns a quick $2,100 without having to worry about ordering, shipping or packaging. QRATES retains a 20% commission when they fulfill orders or 15% if the project creator fulfills orders.

Vinyl: Looks Matter
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The higher the initial threshold, the lower the price per copy is (to the project creator). If you set your threshold at 500, your price per copy may be $6 (you sell to customer for $20 and make $14 per sale), however if you set your threshold at 100, your price per copy may jump to $14 (you sell to customers for $20 and make only $6 per sale). It’s a gamble you have to take up front to figure out how many fans you think will get it. No one gets their vinyl until your threshold is met within the campaign timeline. And your price per copy does not decrease as you surpass your threshold.

While QRATES currently offers colored, transparent and splatter vinyl, other customizations within the Vinylize simulator are very limited. They don’t offer inserts (for liner notes, photos and lyrics), digital download cards, graphic (inner) sleeves, stickers on shrink wrap, double LP packages or other very standard customizations that nearly every other pressing plant in the world offers. Their Vinylize simulator is also a bit confusing with their terminology and I had to hop on a couple calls with reps from the company to actually understand how to use it and what everything meant. They call the outer cardboard package a “sleeve.” But don’t have a graphic sleeve option (the actual inner sleeve that protects the record). Because this is a Japanese/European company the terminology is different and things get a bit lost in translation.

If you’re planning to work with QRATES I recommend contacting them directly and not attempt to work through their current Vinylize simulator. As cool as it is (can be), it’s not nearly at a level where it accommodates most projects. They assured me, though, that their plants have the capabilities for virtually any kind of package you’d want, but just their current Vinylize system doesn’t reflect it – but will in “2-3 months.”

QRATES has a ways to go to be used by the music community at large, but some heavy hitters are already jumping on board. Common and J Dilla in collaboration with Wax Poetics Japan have an active project on the platform.

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For artists who want to offer vinyl to their fans, but don’t have the up front capital to order in bulk (and don’t want to deal with the headache, hassle and expense of shipping and packaging), this is a great option.

It seems like a natural partnership for PledgeMusic (Kickstarter and IndieGoGo) to merge QRATES into their platforms and offer this feature. Only a matter of time I’d say.

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6 Responses

  1. Guilherme!

    Great text! Many professionals don’t bilieve in the new wave of vinyl.
    I have some doubts too, but, more and more, it seems possible that a old technology to bring solution to a new business.

    PS: sorry by my english.

  2. Piuma

    Pressing vinyl is not cheap and this seems like a good way to bridge the gap; however I would be concerned about what actual pressing plants are being used, since not all are created equal, and it would be a bummer to ship a sub-par product to fans shelling out full price.

    I wrote an in-depth article about Making an Environmentally Friendly Vinyl Record, where I found not only the best vinyl manufacturers in the country, but also ones that use eco-friendly techniques.

    Hope this helps for anyone looking to press the best wax possible!



    Thanks for the advice about how to cover your ass when you don’t know what you’re doing, technically, with your product. The slightest bit of research ahead of time would have informed you about intelligent use of the space on an LP, and why one must take into account the nature of the production to maximize sound quality.

    Beyond the basics the biggest things to consider right now if wanting to release vinyl are the reputation of the pressing plant for delivering quality product, or not, and lead times, which are presently astounding. Now that everybody is doing it, pressing plant capacity falls very far short of meeting demand in a timely manner. Any plant that can get you product quickly will most likely not satisfy anyone who is also concerned about the quality of the pressings.

  4. Paul Resnikoff

    Amazing how slow vinyl production is, though it will be interesting to see if investors and capital flow into this space. It might take several more years to demonstrate that this isn’t a fad, which is one of the largest fears. In order to sink tens of millions into infrastructure, the demand for vinyl can’t disappear in five years.

  5. Anonymous

    I go to a lot of shows, mostly a younger/college crowd, and a lot of the acts have vinyl for sale. I pay very close attention to activity at the merch table and I can tell you that non bundled vinyl sales are subpar at best. Young people are way more likely to buy a shirt before an LP.

  6. Justin

    Hey Ari, do you know if the artist is able to get physical copies of the vinyl to sell themselves at shows on tour? I see the mention of QRATES taking 20% commission or 15% if the artist fulfills the orders so I assume this is where that comes into play? If you set the threshold of 300 and you get 150 ‘pre-orders’ can the artist buy the other 150 to sell themselves?