If you want to get dramatic – you could call it the Holy Grail of the internet. That elusive ‘financial model’ that pioneers Sir Amazon, Sir Barnes and Nobel and Sir Kgrind (may he R.I.P.), continually strive to unearth. To an Everyperson, it basically means that no one has figured out how to make money (and a lot of it) solely trading goods and services on the internet. The dot com implosion speaks for itself.
What has flourished however, is the growing number of ‘hobby based’ niche websites that specifically cater for a certain on- or off-line community. Running on spare servers and free time, these sites have been hailed a success, based on the fact they target a specific market with a narrow range of goods and services that are often unavailable to consumers through mainstream outlets.
Case in point: CrispyDisc.com. A Sydney based online distribution service for locally produced small-scale releases and CDRs. A joint venture between Adam and Bea Pierce and Jasper Russel (a.k.a. 5000 Fingers of Dr T and Chocolate Jelly), the site has survived as a small scale venture by distributing releases for the likes of labels Clan Analogue, Couchblip, Groovescooter, Zog, Spinwarp and associated independent artist CDs.
The site was originally set up to allow Australian electronic musicians to promote and sell their work independently of any major label or distributor. The idea first came about in an effort to try and shift a number of Clan Analogue releases that were “gathering dust under various people’s beds”. A relative success, the site continued.
But why not sell through bricks and mortar stores? Adam explains. “There are so many new CDs coming out all the time, it is impossible for record shops to stock them all. They tend to stock a title for a couple of months and then remove it. So one of our aims is to provide an outlet for this ‘orphaned’ music which is still good listening, but not available in the shops anymore.”
Working as a niche operation, it is essential for a site like CrispyDisc to maintain a select and specific focus. Theirs is a music policy of electronic music, one that embraces the obvious plethora of sub genres. “Techno, electro, ambient, experimental, soundscapes, dance and club stuff. We’re fairly flexible with our definition. We don’t take music that is obviously outside that area, for instance a metal band that use a couple of synthesisers don’t really count as electronic. We are also reluctant to take stuff that is really awful, like DJ mixes from inexperienced bedroom artist wannabes. We figure that sort of thing would quickly fill our catalogue with junk.”
As well as stocking standard jewel cased goods, CrispyDisc also distributes a number of ‘unofficial’ releases; CDRs manufactured on a per order basis. “It’s simply the next step from stocking artists. Why not stock artists who are not even on a label? If the music is good, but the audience is small it can make a lot of sense to release on CDR. It doesn’t breach copyright at all. The creator of an artistic work has the copyright, that is the artist has the right to allow copies to be made. So as long as we have permission from the artist (which we do), then it’s legally the same as buying a factory made CD. And it’s better for the artist because there are less overheads. I don’t have the figures in front of me but about a third of our sales are CDRs.”
As for the technical aspects of the site, it is no surprise that CrispyDisc began operating “on a battered old 486 sitting on a network belonging to a friend who owed me a favour”. Upping the stakes, the site now runs on “a battered old Pentium sitting in a cupboard at my house.” The biggest challenge though has been trying to find a good, cheap place to host the site. “It [the site]is quite sophisticated with back end databases and encryption, more than your average BigPond account can cope with.”
With low costs and all admin, tech support, sales and distribution kept (literally) in-house, the CrispyDisc venture is a successful self-sustaining hobby. And while the trio behind the site can’t afford to pay themselves a salary, Adam hopes that “if sales keep improving the way they are, we might be able to melt some cheese over our baked beans next month.”