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The back of the jack . . . et. Of Print Runs and Bits and Bytes

December 28, 2010

Earlier this month we unveiled the front cover. Here’s the reverse, including the track listing (if the text is too small, clicking on the picture will open it at its original size):

Not too much to say about the art. I used the “moon” (it’s actually a doctored street lamp bloom) from one of the layers on the front cover and hollowed out one of the crows.

I’m not really spoiling any guests except Mike Ward, who played piano throughout Fireworks at the Carnival, returns to play organ for us on “Put on the Brake.” Mike now plays in several great bands in the area, including June Star and the Egg Babies Orchestra, the only cover band that I have paid money to see multiple times.

The more interesting part is at the bottom, because it says what the print run is: 300.

Three hundred discs is not very many. We printed a thousand of the first album. Three hundred discs is fewer than I ought to print, but more than I want to print, and more, honestly, than I can afford to print.

I like holding a physical CD in my hands. I like that I can grab it at any time and head out to my car and listen to it. Or at least, I can in the summer, because when it gets cold out, my car CD player doesn’t read discs well. But I recognize that they are becoming outmoded. And I’m a bit keen on the environment. I don’t like waste. I don’t like having more than a thousand CDs sitting in my basement.

Those physical CDs serve a great purpose in large runs, though: You can give them away. I can when I like their material or want to hear more, I trade other songwriters, even for their home-recorded demos, because I think it’s something all songwriters should do for each other. Sometimes I’ll give it to another songwriter if I like what they do and they don’t have a record yet.  You can also discount them, because you will eventually make up the loss by the end of the print run.

I’ve known, since sometime in June, that this would be a primarily digital release. A slew of technological innovations even in the last year have led me to believe that CDs are honestly and truly on their way out. The environmentalist in me says “Good riddance.” The part of me that likes holding a CD in my hands reminds me that half of my band’s demographic doesn’t download music, and Grassrootsy, a blog I follow, is always reminding me that indie artists sell most of their albums at concerts. Even if I’m not in this to make money (the IRS calls what I do a “hobby business” — but many musicians might call it “semi-professional” or “part-time”), I would like to know that our music will get heard by the small portion of the population that likes us.

Printing a CD is cheap but not that cheap. Printing a short run CD is actually more expensive in a way, because the cost per copy is twice as much. (That’s how they getcha.) Unlike the previous album, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be in the hole with this one. And I’m very efficient money and time-wise in the studio. I know plenty of people who regularly spend twice as much as it cost to record all three of my albums. And Jen’s solo CD . . . well, let’s just say that I’m taking aspirin on a daily basis after hearing what hers cost.

So I’m stuck. If I don’t print it and it doesn’t sell, it’s a lose-lose. If I print it, I’ll be broke and back to warehousing these little plastic things that half our audience is going to rip to their iPods anyway. I need to make a decision weeks ago about this, and I just can’t.

So that’s the story of the number 300.

There’s one last solution: It might become 100 if I swallow my pride and sell CD-Rs (rather than stamped replicated CDs, which are more durable but must be printed in larger numbers). I feel like this is the worst decision of the three, because the audience members who really want a physical copy of the CD will be getting an inferior product.

Cheers, and I actually mean that,

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