Moses Avalon prides himself on being an industry insider who knows all the creepy in’s and out’s of the business. He publishes books about and holds seminars to make sure naive musicians don’t get eaten up and chewed out by the industry. Definitely a noble goal and he provides a good newsletter also. A recent item he had caught my eye: CD Baby’s New Digital Deal Is Not What It Seems. The article brings up the thorny issue of “digital distribution.”
Indie distributor/label CD Baby is offering artists who sign up with them the possibility of getting distributed through Apple’s I-Tunes store. Avalon goes through the CD Baby contract and finds many loopholes in it including some exclusivity deals that the artist would be tied to with CD Baby, leading to the suspicion that they’re not being forthright with musicians, especially compared to another service called TuneCore.
Derek Sivers, who runs CD Baby, has responded:
“Just for the record, if some guy somewhere prefers another company’s business plan to ours, I don’t care. Good for them. The more companies there are out there honestly trying to help musicians, the better. I don’t believe in “competition” as a negative thing, because “world domination” is not my goal. (Would one charity organization that’s trying to help save rainforests get mad because there’s another charity organization that’s trying
to help save endangered species? Of course not!) I’m just trying to help my fellow musicians. I hope there will be 1000 more companies that do the same.”
In a follow-up to the article (not posted yet but sent to his mailing list), Avalon had to back-peddle a bit, claiming that he wasn’t necessarily trying to smear CD Baby per se (though he extensively notes them in his article) but was just calling into question some of the practices surrounding digital distribution.
Sivers is definitely not wanting for supports. The MusicThoughts mailing list (which Sivers helped to set up and is full of CD Baby clients/artists) had a lot of defenders post messages about this recently. Some samples:
- “I’m most happy with the CD Baby digital distribution program, absolutely no sarcasm meant there. It is a gold mine. We sold 1600 songs (streaming and download), and if it weren’t for CD Baby I imagine getting on iTunes and such would’ve been much more difficult, if not impossible. And we’re paid a lot more frequently by CD Baby than any other distributor even promises.”
- “Why focus more on CD Baby, rather than the Orchard? Because more people use and love CD Baby, so that will get their ire up, and make it more likely for people to read his article, even if they’re fuming while doing it. People don’t have to believe what they’re reading in the Globe or the National Enquirer to read it. It’s enough to wonder if it might, or could, be true.”
- “In effect, the TuneCore model seems to suggest that you are paying them for relatively fixed services, and they can set charges for those services based on their costs, what they feel the market will bear, and whatever other criteria they may have in terms of their business strategy and trying to make a living… I’m not sure how fair Avalon’s comparison of TuneCore to CD Baby and the Orchard is in that the primary businesses of these firms seem to be different. CD Baby’s site makes it pretty clear their primary business is as a retailer (and distributor) of physical CDs. Doing a digital download only release through them requires, by their own admission, a workaround to their system, and their digital distribution aggregation service is really a value-added service to their mainstream business.”
And so on… with some suggesting that Avalon has an ax to grind (probable), is a something of a sensationalist (yep) and/or has a stake in TuneCore itself (unknown). Wonder if he’ll do a follow-up expose, on himself.
ADDENDA: That was actually done about three years ago by someone who posted to the CD Baby website (not Derek himself): Moses Avalon’s real name is Josh Melville and he’s a liar. Kind of puts this battle in perspective…