This article was contributed by Ross Barber, a web designer who specializes in design for bands and musicians. With his company Electric Kiwi he has worked with many independent and unsigned artists to enhance their online presence.
This article discusses options for selling music via your WordPress website. This list is by no means conclusive – there are a huge number of plugins and options out there and this article covers some of the more widely used methods.
If you don’t use WordPress, there are still many direct-to-fan options available, such as Bandcamp, Bandzoogle, ReverbNation and Topspin. Whatever your website platform, the right solution is out there!
Why should I sell via my website?
1. Your website = the epicentre of your online activity.
Your website should be the central hub of what happens with your music online, and it should be generating money for you. Displaying your products on your website, rather than directing fans and potential customers to an external store offers a more engaging and consistent experience. You wouldn’t send people away from your show to another venue to purchase merchandise, so why would you do the same on your website?
2. You keep more $$$
Selling your music and merchandise directly from your website means that you have control over the pricing. Of course, most external stores allow you to set the pricing too, but with your own website you are more in control of what you actually make per sale because you’ll have less fees to pay – which is always a plus! If you’re using PayPal as your payment method, then there will be a small transaction fee to pay (approximately 5%), but you can always work this into your product cost. To do the same on an external store, you may need to increase your costs by 10 or 15% just to keep your margins the same and your finances afloat. Using a store built into your website means that you can keep the prices lower, but without sacrificing your profit.
3. You also have the opportunity to be creative.
You don’t necessarily need to sell the standard CDs or t-shirts that every other musician is selling. Create experience packages and sell them to your fans. Are you an awesome guitarist? Offer a 45 minute lesson via Skype. Do fans always ask you for you lyrics? Offer a handwritten copy of your lyrics accompanied by a personal message. When you’re selling products on your own store, you have the freedom to sell whatever you want, and that means you can get creative – in many cases more-so than you can with an external platform.
4. Your products can (and should) tell a story…
and where better to do that than on your website? Don’t just list your products for sale – talk about them, give your fans a backstory… make them care about what you’re selling, and get closer to them as a result.
5. Email addresses!
One big bonus with managing your own store via your WordPress website is that you can see the email addresses of those who are buying from you. Now, you can’t just add these to your mailing list without asking, but what you can do is send out a personal message to those who have purchased your music or merchandise. A personalized thank you can go a long way – it could turn a passive fan into a super fan…and we LOVE super fans! Ask them if you can add them to your mailing list so they can keep informed about your latest releases. You might be surprised at the response, and you might just make someone’s day. You may not have time to do this for everyone, but if you find yourself at a loose end, take advantage of it and make a connection. It could be the start of something beautiful.
Before making any decisions…
Create a list of what you would like your store to do and separate that list into essential and desirable features. Consider:
1. WHO your audience is
2. WHAT you’re selling
3. HOW your music or merchandise should be delivered
4. GIVING your fans the best experience possible
5. GENERATING income for you as an artist
There are a multitude of e-commerce plugins available for WordPress. The features will vary between them, but for the more advanced options will include features like stock control, coupon codes, product variations and different shipping options.
Before deciding on whether an e-commerce plugin is right for you, think about what you want to offer on your store; do you want to sell physical merchandise? Do you want to offer digital downloads? Do you want to offer coupon codes as a reward/incentive for your existing fans to purchase your new line of t-shirts? Do you want to offer different shipping rates for domestic vs international destinations? These are all important things to consider when making a decision on store plugin for WordPress, as each plugin has different capabilities.
One of the big players is WooCommerce. Created by WooThemes, WooCommerce, for most, is an out-of-the-box solution. If you’re at the point where you need a full e-commerce solution, then WooCommerce may be the option for you.
- Relatively easy to set up.
- PayPal integration, with options for additional payment gateways available as add-ons.
- Stock management (i.e. you can tell WooCommerce how many of those awesome new t-shirts you have in stock, and it will automatically tell fans when stock is low, or you’re out of stock – no more awkward emails!)
- Options for physical and digital products – that’s right, you can offer secure downloads direct from your website, as well as selling physical CDs. It’s like iTunes, but without the middleman.
- Product variations – do you have 5 different sizes of t-shirt, or want to offer a choice between signed and unsigned copies of your latest CD? No problem!
- Options for regular and sale prices – great for offering holiday discounts.
- Large repository of additional extensions and features.
- Styles can be customized from the options menu.
- While there are options for basic customization, depending on your theme, further customization may be required. Generally speaking if you’re using one of the default WordPress themes, or a well recognized theme, WooCommerce should work as is, but if you’re using a custom theme then you, or your developer, may need to spend some time tweaking things to get things looking just right.
- Extensions may need to be purchased if you require more advanced shipping options.
- So many options can be overwhelming and cause confusion when adding items, or initially setting up the store.
#2: Ultra Simple Paypal Shopping Cart
For many, a full e-commerce solution like WooCommerce is too large an undertaking. After all, if you’re only selling a small number of products, or don’t require features such as stock management or digital downloads, then you may be better going for a simpler store. The name really does say it all in this case.
Many artists already use Paypal to sell their products. It’s a simple way to sell your music direct to your fans. It’s not always the most attractive solution – however, when styled to be consistent with your website (and not just using Paypal’s standard buttons) it can look like a higher end solution.
For artists who don’t want all of the additional features that some of the larger e-commerce plugins offer, Ultra Simple Paypal Shopping Cart is one viable solution.
- PayPal integration.
- Simple to set up: you could have your products for sale within an hour, if not less.
- Ideal for artists who just want to sell a small number of products directly from their website.
- Will require some development work to make the store operate like a higher end e-commerce solution.
- No alternative payment options – must use PayPal.
- Less flexible than a plugin like WooCommerce.
- Not ideal for digital downloads (as cannot generate individual URL for each download link), so would be limited to physical products only.
- No coupon codes or discount rates available (at time of writing).
#3: Easy Digital Downloads
If you’re only looking to sell digital downloads, then Easy Digital Downloads is the solution for you. It’s lightweight and simple, offering only the functions needed to operate a digital-only store.
- Sell digital downloads direct from your website – keep all of the profits without paying out to iTunes/Bandcamp etc.
- Promotional codes available.
- Create product bundles.
- Add ons available to improve functionality.
- PayPal integration included – other payment gateways available via paid add-ons.
- Since it’s digital-only, you don’t have to worry about making trips to the post office
- Mailing list add-ons available to merge email addresses provided during purchase with your existing mailing list database.
- Digital only – no physical sales can be made via this plugin.
What if I don’t use WordPress, or want an easier solution?
If you don’t use WordPress, or don’t want to set up an integrated store, there are plenty of other options. At the end of the day, you want to be able to make money from your music, and part of that is about making your music readily available, keeping prices low for fans, and keeping profits high (or at least sustainable) for you.
You should ensure that fans have an option to buy your music directly via your website in some way or another. If this is simply a link to an external store, then so be it, but an integrated store is preferable.
Bandcamp is a great solution for many artists as you can create a storefront within minutes, and can also easily embed it within your website (WordPress or not). Bandcamp takes 15% of your digital sales revenue, and 10% on merch (dropping down to 10% on digital sales once you’ve reached $5,000 USD and stays at that level as long as you make that amount within the previous 12 months, too). Processing fees are (like Paypal’s) somewhere between 4 and 6%.
Bandcamp’s players are relatively customizable (although do lack in color and font options – hopefully something that will be expanded on in the near future), and Bandcamp is a trusted retailer by many. Embedding a Bandcamp widget onto your website is simple to do, and will allow people to make a decision without leaving your website.
Ecwid is a new storefront, which is free if you’re selling less than 10 items on your store. You have the freedom to set your own prices and shipping details, and you can embed the storefront onto your existing website with relative ease.
Granted, the appearance isn’t exactly beautiful, but it’s very functional and for artists on a budget who want to get a working store online and sell direct-to-fan, it’s a very reasonable solution.
Of course, there are many other direct-to-fan outlets available. The most important thing is that you do your research and compare them to find out which one suits YOUR needs best. Don’t be afraid to seek out feedback from other artists to find out what has worked for them, and what hasn’t.
Ultimately, when it comes to selling your music or merchandise via your website, the decision is in your hands. There’s no correct answer, and no solution that is going to be right for everyone. The way that you sell your products to your fans will depend on:
- What you’re offering (physical or digital, or both?)
- How many products you’ll be listing at one time
- Whether or not you need stock control or the ability to create bundles and/or coupons
- What payment options you require
- If you need to offer different shipping rates for domestic vs international
- If you want to sell more creative/non-standard products
In other words, there are a lot of factors to consider before making a decision.
A fully integrated store solution is, in my opinion, the ideal option. Something that blends seamlessly into your website, and provides your fans with a consistent and smooth experience is a winner in my book.
Setting up your online store should be an exciting time. To ensure it’s a smooth process, consider hiring or collaborating with a designer/developer to get the best results from your new store. That will also free up some time to create some new music and packages that your fans will love. You’ll also have the benefit of drawing from a professional’s experience to help make your new store the best it can be.
If you lack the experience, budget or need for one of the more advanced, all-encompassing solutions, then an external storefront embedded onto your website may be right for your needs. It’s all about doing what’s right for you and your career at this point in time. Remember that things can always be changed and if you find that you need to upgrade at a later date, it’s very possible.
Whatever option you decide to go with, here’s wishing you a very successful, and profitable 2014!
12 Days of Monetization is a 12-part series designed to help you make more money in 2014. Ariel and team Cyber PR asked 12 of their favorite colleagues to contribute and we hope you enjoy this series.