Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, suggested in a blog post last September that musicians who sold CDs at their gigs should follow the example of the band Griffin House and let the customers decide how much they should pay. He passed on this advice:
- Say to the audience, “It's really important to us that you have our CD. We worked so hard on it and are so proud of it, that we want you to have it, no matter what. Pay what you want, but even if you have no money, please take one tonight.”
- Mention this again before the end of the show, adding, “Please, nobody leave here tonight without getting a copy of our CD. We've shared this great show together so it would mean a lot to us if you'd take one.”
This apparently increased the band's sales from $300 to $1200 per night, for an average price of $10. Equally important, the free copies gave the band great exposure and their attendance doubled as subsequent shows.
Silvers challenged his readers to try it and document the results. Of the 362 responses he got, this one from Richard Hunter was the most inspiring:
I brought 50 CDs to the gig. I repeated over and over to this crowd, starting with my hellos, that I wanted 50 people to go home with CDs, whether they paid for them or not. Ultimately I sold or gave away 36 CDs at prices ranging from $0 to $20 for total revenue of $156, almost exactly $4.33 per unit. (About $15 of that revenue was actually food--farmer's market, remember? When I finished performing, three farmers came over to me, one by one, and gave me apples, pears, and coffee beans. I was very moved, the food is quite good, and it's as good as money to me.)
For this size crowd--about 100 people--normally I'd have sold about 15 CDs at $10 each. So the total take was similar, my cost was about $20 higher (about $1 per CD), I collected a lot of email addresses, and over 20 people went home with my music who otherwise wouldn't have. And I don't think anyone at that gig will forget me soon. The goodwill I generated today was substantial.
One interesting thing: many people seemed to feel obligated to pay, and not to take a CD unless they did, no matter how often I told them it was perfectly okay to take a CD home for free. Go figure.
For me this experiment was a success. I'll certainly try it again. Today a lot more people have my music in their hands than is usual for a gig like this, and I got paid for it. I'd MUCH rather end up printing a couple thousand more CDs to sell at an average price of $4 apiece than sit on boxes of CDs that a lot of people won't buy at $10 apiece.
[Thanks to Benoît Felten for bringing this to my attention in an insightful look at the music industry.]