April 16, 2012
We previously wrote about Soundsupply a few months ago, but with the release of the second bunch of albums we thought it was something worth revisiting in more detail.
Over the past two years, the bundle model has become a viable distribution channel in the world of games. The idea is simple: gather up a bunch of independent games and sell them for cheap, usually without digital rights management (DRM) and with the bulk of the money raised either going to charity or straight to the developers. Different pricing schemes have emerged from the various bundles, but they all give you the opportunity to buy upwards of five games for a fraction of what even one of them would cost normally. And because the idea is still trendy, a bundle can get noticed simply by the fact that it’s a bundle, regardless of the quality or popularity of the contents.
Considering how popular the bundle approach has become in gaming, it’s not surprising that the idea is now finding its way to other media. Enter Soundsupply. Soundsupply functions very much like the game bundles described above: gather 10 albums in a DRM-free format and sell them for cheap, eschewing price gimmicks in favor of a flat $15 charge. You don’t need to crunch the numbers to know that $15 for 10 albums is an incredible value. Of course, that’s assuming the music is worth your money at all.
One of the criticisms of the bundle model is that the quality can vary wildly within the bundle itself, but that worry is usually mitigated by the low cost of entry. It doesn’t really matter if there is a dud in the bunch when you only paid a few dollars for the lot. Granted, $15 is a decent chunk of change for some, but at $1.50 per album the real cost is time. And while time is certainly a treasured commodity these days, there are certainly bigger wastes of it then spending 45 minutes on a record it turns out you don’t love.
Fortunately, Soundsupply’s first supply drop was more than worth the asking price and time commitment. Coconut Records’ Davy and Someone Still Loves Your Boris Yeltsin’s Let It Sway were each worth the $15 alone, and albums by Sophie Madeleine, Sister Suvi, and Into It. Over It. made the deal that much better. Soundsupply is now currently in the middle of its second drop, and the quality is just as good this time around. Jeremy Enigk, Owen and Matt Pryor headline the current picks, and there are gems to be had among the relatively unknowns. It’s good to see the organizers considered feedback from the first bundle and included the lossless FLAC format; that kind of attention to the community will determine whether Soundsupply survives or not.
But even more than that, Soundsupply may need to ramp up the quality if it wants to stay relevant. One of the things that keep the game bundles going is the inclusion of good titles that are fairly well-known. Hooking people with World of Goo or Super Meat Boy is imperative to ensure they not only spend the money, but come back again. Few people are willing to support the bundle model simply because its a good idea, they need to have a reason to return. Soundsupply is already well on its way to establishing a solid base to build on, as long as the momentum continues.
But that momentum comes with drawbacks. The bundle model is so popular in gaming that “bundle fatigue” has set in; it is becoming harder to convince people to pay even the minuscule asking prices as their backlog of unplayed games continues to pile up. Incentives like extra games, soundtracks, and source code help differentiate between bundles and give customers added value. Luckily, Soundsupply has the luxury of being the only music bundle around right now, but it may need to address this problem later on as other collections pop up to compete for listeners’ attention.
For now, though, Soundsupply is an interesting idea worthy of support. The organizers claim to be “ushering in a revolution in music distribution” and while that may seem like a lofty goal, the fact that there are already a year’s worth of drops planned means they may just succeed. In this digital age, the barriers between artist and audience are constantly being broken down, and Soundsupply is another huge chunk out of that wall. A few clicks and a few dollars is all that separates you from a slew of good albums. All you have to lose is time.