How to Sell Your CD Online

   by Diane C. Donovan


You’ve finally published your first cd and now it’s time to sit back and wait for the orders to come in, right?

Wrong… not that it isn’t time to fill orders; but it’s now time to consider how your customers will reach you, how they will pay you for your items, and how you’ll fill the orders, from receiving pay to shipping out your items so your customers are happy.

This article assumes you’ve already marketed your cd in some way – ran a successful ad campaign, passed out order forms at your concerts, or otherwise promoted your item. (If you need more info in these areas, see our article on Marketing Your Music).

These are ways to approach cd sales:

  1. You can do it all yourself.
  2. You can use a third party to do all the processing, payment collection and shipping.
  3. You can use a third party to process and collect payment, and you can ship your cds to the customer directly.

1. Here’s what’s involved in ‘doing it all yourself’

First, you need to concern yourself with collecting payment.

  1. Credit Cards. Buyers who order through the mail usually pay using major credit cards: it’s the most popular, quickest method, and provides some measure of protection to the buyer if they order something and don’t receive it – but it requires you, the seller, to set up an account, pay monthly and per-item processing fees, and ultimately to assume the risk if the buyer is dissatisfied and places a claim to the credit card company for a refund. See further details in our article ‘How to Accept Payment Online: Credit Card Woes and Pros’.
  2. Shipping. While there’s not very much you need to ship someone a package, you should plan on investing in a small supply of bubble wrap (protective thick bubble wrapping with tiny bubbles keep cases from breaking in transit), clear wrapping tape (about $.85-$3.10 per roll currently), and cd mailers.

US priority mailers can be obtained for free at a post office, as can priority mail labels and wrapping tape – but priority is costly, albeit quick – at current rates you’ll have to charge $4.95 US domestic to pay for postage and materials, for a single cd.

Your customers usually wish a range of shipping options: some will want their packages instantly; others are more concerned with cost and don’t mind waiting.

For a single cd, first class within US is an affordable option allowing you to ship for about $2.50. Media mail is a good US option for several cds but be aware: it can take anywhere from 5 days to 5 weeks: it’s an economy rate and there are no guarantees on speed.

Outside the US, priority air at $5.95 for 1 cd (current prices) is recommended: surface can take 6-8 weeks or even longer: if you ship outside the country, special customs forms are required (available from your post office).

2. Use third-party processors to do it ALL

These are good alternatives for the very small seller who doesn’t wish the paperwork and hassle of taking credit cards directly.

Any time you use a third party to help in your order processing, you must plan on paying a set fee or percentage of sales in return.

If you’re operating a very tiny profit margin (the amount you actually make after you pay for the expenses of manufacturing your cd), you may wish to consider doing all the order fulfillment yourself; but if you can afford it (or if you can add the charges into the cd cost you pass on to your customer) you will find these third parties can free up your time for playing your music rather than filling orders – and if you’re on the road a lot, even if gigging locally, these services will be key to your selling cds regularly without delays and customer frustration.

Here are a recommended third-party seller: all you have to do is follow their instructions, send them your cds, and they do the rest:

  1. Cdbaby (http://cdbaby.com):

--Selling’s easy even if you have only 1 cd: fill out their form, mail them a $35. Start fee and 5 cds, and they do a web page advertising your fare (YOU get to write your description if you wish!), collect and process the sales, do the shipping, and cut you a check. They even submit your page to web search engines and galleries, and email you to tell you exactly who bought your cd.

The best thing about Cdbaby is understated on their site: they ALSO offer a direct link to YOUR web page and if you don’t want to advertise your own email, you can receive forwarded emails through Cdbaby, cutting down on spam and yet allowing your customers direct access to you, the artist.

This is a big plus many larger sites don’t offer – and one you should consider.

What will this cost? You set your own selling price. Cdbaby currently keeps $4. Per cd sold and there’s a one-time $35US fee to set up an account with them.

You don’t need to sign an exclusive contract (typical with most online third parties) so you can also sell on your own site or on other sites. You don’t even have to shrinkwrap your cd – and, it can be a cd-rom you’ve made yourself, as long as it looks good.

Here’s a few places to list your things, but you do the actual shipping:

  1. GEMM (http://gemm.com): GEMM is a ‘sell it yourself’ site. They offer you a well-publicized site, they do the processing of credit card orders (for a percentage, which is adjustable and can be passed on to or divided between the seller/buyer as you wish) – but you do the shipping and it’s up to you to confirm and ship out the orders.
  2. As with most cd sales, GEMM’s processing system doesn’t guarantee against buyer fraud – and it does guarantee the customer’s satisfaction. It’s up to you to decide whether to risk a transaction from a dubious country, for example – or to reject it – and customer dissatisfaction results in refunds by GEMM and bills against your account from GEMM, with no opportunity for seller appeal.

    They (like Cdbaby) offer you the opportunity to build ‘your’ website on their system as well as to link to your existing site, provide you a free email address if needed, and best of all – there are no fees until you sell something.

    So your cd can experience low volume without costing you in listing fees.

  3. Amazon.com (www.amazon.com): Their service offers easy listing, a wide-ranging brand name with greater sales potential, and offers you the opportunity to sell your cds through them – presuming your cd is already listed and sold new on their system.
  4. You are not allowed to sell your own copies for more than their new listing cost, however, and Amazon takes a hefty chunk of fees from each cd sold: currently .99 plus 10% of sales.

    Their shipping reimbursements can also be low depending on how you set your shipping for cds: you have the option of offering just standard (media) shipping, expedited (priority) or overseas – or not; pay attention to the reimbursement fees for each; they set prices and cannot be adjusted even if your actual costs prove more.

    You do all your own shipping with an Amazon Marketplace listing.

    In addition, you need to be registered to accept Amazon 1click Payments – which means you need to register both a bank account and a credit card with them so they can transfer money into your account as your cd sells (the credit card is a security move to avoid fraud and identify sellers, and is typically not charged).

    While there are no fees for unsold items, your listings will ‘close’ every 60 days and require you to log back in and re-list every 60 days (an easy 3-step process).

  5. Ebay (www.ebay.com). Yes, they are an auction site – but what you may not know is they now have ‘shops’ you can open with ‘fixed prices’. They have made the shop listings more visible so when an Ebay person shops, these shop listings will also come up during the course of a search. Fees are a percentage of sales – plus you are encouraged to take PayPal as an online payment (buyers must also sign with PayPal to pay you through them). Read about ebay’s shop fees, then take a look at PayPal (www.paypal.com): it’s the payment method ebay buyers prefer (and, it’s now owned by ebay…)

There are and will be other sales venues online, but here are some checklists to watch for:

  1. How easy is it to list your item? Does the site take care of publicity, setting up a web site, and shipping; or do you? Can you easily change your item’s price if needed?
  2. How much ‘traffic’ does the listing site get? It will waste your time to list ‘everywhere’ if only a few sites are generating sales – and some want set-up and up-front fees whether you sell or not.
  3. Does it allow direct contact between you the artist and the buyer? Some sites will list your direct email and personal web site; many others ‘hide’ this information so there is no way for a buyer to reach you or communicate directly with you.
  4. Are you willing and do you have time to take responsibility for shipping your own items, or do you want the site to provide all services? This will be especially important if you gig and travel a lot – you don’t want customers wondering where you ‘vanished’ to if they ordered their cd 3 days ago and expect it in 5 days.
  5. If you fill your own orders, is there an easy ‘vacation’ setting on the site you can turn on/off as you leave town, so orders won’t accumulate and sit in your absence? If so, this feature keeps you from having to take items off line and relist every time you leave town.
  6. Are there fees even if you sell nothing? Do you have to sell a ‘minimum’ amount to keep your listing on their site?
  7. How will you plan on handling customer dissatisfaction? With online sales there are two very common causes for complaint: cds which arrive damaged in shipping (usually broken cases) and cds which don’t arrive at all. Yes, you shipped them – but in the mail order world, the SELLER is responsible until the customer safely receives the item.