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[The Story Biz Blog] Into the Hands of Your Fans: Promoting Your Recording 2-25-08

The Story Biz Blog February 25, 2008
Into the Hands of Your Fans: Promoting Your Recording
By Dianne de Las Casas

Into the Hands of Your Fans!
Breathe a sigh of relief. Your recording is done. Woo-hoo! All that loving labor in the recording studio or recording your material live has paid off – it’s finished, mastered, packaged, and ready to sell. Now you have 1,000 CDs (or more) sitting in boxes in the middle of your living room, garage, or extra room. Of course, you recorded the CDs to sell them but how do you get started? You’re feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of yet another job added to your already slammed schedule. Here are a few tips to help you market and sell your recordings.

Sell Your CD Online
Set up accounts with Amazon.com, CDBaby.com and Bathtubmusic.com. Although Amazon.com takes 60% of your sale, millions of people will go to Amazon first before anywhere else. There is prestige in listing with Amazon. CDBaby was started by Derek Sivers and he is a musician. He looks out for indie artists. CDBaby.com is easy to sign up with. There is a one-time $35 processing fee and they ask for five CDs to begin. CDBaby pays every Monday so checks regularly arrive in the mail when you sell on CDBaby. Like CDBaby, Bath Tub Music is artist-friendly. They take a small percentage and do not charge a processing fee.

Set up a store on your own website so that you can offer your CD for sale. Don't forget shipping and handling. And don't forget to offer sound clips. That can make the difference between a visitor and a customer.

Digital Downloads
With the proliferation of portable music players such as MP3 Players and iPods, people are downloading music from the Internet more than ever. Music tracks usually sell for $.99 a track for a 3-5 minute song. Stories are usually longer but unfortunately, most digital download sites do not take this in consideration when setting their prices. My Jump, Jiggle & Jam CD, which retails for $15.99 has 8 tracks on it, varying in length. As a digital download, they sell for $.99/each no matter how short or long the stories are. I receive a percentage of that price so my profit is much smaller. On the other hand, with digital downloads, there is no product to handle and no shipping costs. The stories go directly from the Internet to the consumer.

I am a member of CDBaby. They handle my online digital distribution through distribution outlets such as iTunes. When songs are downloaded, CDBaby handles the sales and direct deposits my percentage into my bank account. It’s convenient and trouble-free. Ultimately, I may reach a wider audience through digital downloads.

Another avenue is to offer digital downloads straight from your own website. Customers can download your stories directly from your site. The upside of this arrangement is that you can set the fee for your downloads. Odds Bodkin operates this way and offers his stories as MP3 digital downloads directly from his website at www.oddsbodkin.com. When offering downloadable tracks from your website, be mindful when setting fees. You don’t want the story tracks on your website to be more expensive than another site offering the same stories. You need to give people a reason to stop and shop at your website.

iTales is a company that offers digital downloads of storytelling tracks. Registering is simple and MP3 tracks are easily uploaded from your computer to their site. What I like about iTales is that you set the fee for each track. You receive a 40% commission if your story is downloaded. Storyteller and Author Donna Washington says, “iTales is a great service.” All of Donna’s stories are available for download on iTales.

Put Your Recordings in Stores
Make a list of stores in your area you would like to carry your recordings. Contact the stores and ask them to carry your recording. Many stores will ask to carry on consignment – that means they carry your recordings and pay you when it is sold. With consignment sales, you can negotiate a better commission for yourself because the merchant are not paying you in advance for the CDs; 15-30% of the retail price for the merchant is typical for consignments.

When retailers purchase inventory from you outright, 40-50% off retail is the common discount. At 40%, a $15 CD will cost the retailer $9. I went into a toy store when I was touring out of town. I ventured inside with no intention of marketing my CDs; I just wanted to buy a gift for my then 3-year-old daughter. I ended up conversing with the storeowner and began talking about my “award-winning” CD (I couldn’t help myself). She was so excited about my CD that she bought 8 copies. I left the store with a check in hand. I set my retail price higher than I offer stageside and on my website. This allows me a bigger profit. When sell to retailers, my CD retail price is $15.99, instead of $15.

Place Your CDs in Catalogs
Research catalogs that might carry your CD. Look beyond the usual outlets. If you have a CD of fish stories, you may “net” sales in a fisherman’s catalog (everyone needs a gift for their child). The answer is always no unless you ask. Surf the Web and find some catalogs that might be interested, and then make some phone calls. There are many catalogs that distribute to library and education markets.

Have a short pitch ready for when the person answers the phone. You will need to know some catalog lingo if your CD is accepted. You will need a return policy (the conditions for which you will accept returns) and an overstock policy (if you will accept returns when they overstock your product). In addition, you will need to establish a retail price (the price you sell to the general consumer). Establish a price slightly higher than what you offer direct to your customers so that your customers can always buy your CD cheaper from you. You will also be asked to provide the catalog with a purchase discount, typically 40% to 50% of the retail price. Catalogs will also ask for terms of payment (when you expect to be paid). Net 30 is common (that gives them 30 calendar days to pay from receipt of the invoice). You may also be asked if you accept purchase orders (they send you a P.O. number and you send the CDs with an invoice). Don’t forget to add the price of shipping and handling when you are invoicing.

Getting great reviews in ALA Booklist, School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and AudioFile Magazine are the key to have catalogs come knocking at your door. Distributors pay attention to these industry magazines because their customers, libraries and schools, read these magazines. If your CD receives a stellar review in any of these magazines, catalogs will likely contact you to establish an account and carry your CD. My CDs are carried by Follett Audio Visual, Book Wholesalers Inc., Book House Inc., and The AV Café. These catalogs asked to set up accounts with me because of the reviews my CDs received in national publications.

Have a CD Release Party
I had a couple of CD release parties when my first CD was released; a holiday release party for friends, family, and SUPER clients, and a public CD release party at the children's museum. Provide snacks (mention food in your invitation) and people will come. Since my first CD is titled "Jambalaya," naturally, I served jambalaya. I asked a famous manufacturer of packaged Cajun foods to donate the jambalaya and they did! I also had crafts for the kids and an art contest. Some fans drove two hours to attend my CD release party. The museum gave me a 650 head count, many of whom attended my shows and bought my CD. In addition, my name was advertised all over the museum, in the museum’s newsletter and in the local paper. They called my CD release party “Jambalaya Day” at the museum.

Here are some tips for a successful CD release party:

• Establish a theme (obviously, use your CD theme).
• Have the party at a public venue.
• Alert the media.
• Send invitations to clients and fans.
• Solicit donations of food and prizes from local businesses.
• Decorate the space to create a festive feeling.
• Have a mailing list for people to sign.
• Give away a prize basket.
• If your CD is for kids, provide craft activities that coordinate with your party’s theme.
• Autograph CDs.
• Enlist volunteers to help you coordinate the event.

Back of the Room Sales
Set up an eye-catching table display with your CDs for sale after every show. Don't be shy about announcing your CDs at the end of your program. If you stay quiet, so will your CDs because no one will hear them. Remember, fans want to continue their enjoyment of your stories and they can do that by taking a CD home! How many times have you been to an event where you purchase the $10 program (Disney on Ice!) or a t-shirt? It is not egotistical to offer your CDs for sale. People love souvenirs and will purchase them to remember an enjoyable event.

• Bring a friend to assist you when possible. If you have an assistant with you to help handle CD sales, she can manage the money and open the CDs, readying them for your autograph. When you have a long line of people waiting for your autograph, it helps tremendously. Purchase an inexpensive CD opener from your local music store or bookstore. That shrink-wrap is not easy to open!

• Provide a ready-made receipt. If you are selling to schools and libraries, educators and librarians will need a receipt. Create a simple receipt that has your name, contact information, CD title(s), and blanks for the date, the quantity, and the total amount paid. You can leave the receipts blank and have your customers fill them out (like airport taxi drivers do when you ask for a receipt). This will save time.

• Carry adequate change. Pricing your CD a whole number simplifies banking. Selling CDs for $15.45 does not make sense. Carry at least $50 - Two 10s, four 5s, and ten 1 dollar bills. If you are selling CDs for $15, you can change those one dollar bills into two 5s.

• Accept credit cards. Accepting credit cards greatly enhances your chance for sales. If you are a member of CDBaby.com, they offer you the use of a credit card machine for after-performance sales. The machine is $30 and comes complete with all the necessary receipts and paperwork.

• Offer a special - "Buy three and get a five dollar discount. Makes great gifts!!” This will encourage bulk buying. I always offer 20% off to teachers (they frequently spend their own money to supply their classrooms) so my CDs are $12 instead of $15 for them.

• Create an eye-catching display and put CDs within easy reach of the customers. Elevate your CD display so your customers don't have to stoop to look at it. CDs laying flat on a table are hard to look at and don't receive as much attention. You can accomplish this by gift-wrapping a tall box with cloth, hot-gluing it together. Or use those beautiful, sturdy gift boxes that come out around the holidays - gold, silver, and star themes are generic. Weight the box down with a bag of dry beans so it isn't blown over by the wind. Bring your own tablecloth and have 2 display signs. One with your CD prices and one with your photo and logo. Merchandising and "window dressing" can make a big difference. If you are performing outside, be aware of the wind. Be sure that your displays can stand up to gusts of wind. Small beanbags can help anchor down those clear plastic display signs.

• Bring bags for people to put their purchases in, especially if they buy in bulk or you have multiple titles for sale.

• Give every customer an order form so that they can pass it on to a friend. Don't forget information about your shows.

• Have a mailing list sign-up sheet at the table. Strongly encourage people to sign up for your mailing list.

Autographing and Meet-and-Greet Tips
• When autographing, have a prepared "line" that correlates to the theme of your CD. For example, my autograph line for my Jambalaya CD is "Stories spice up your life so cook up a tasty tale!” Having a prepared line will help to move the line along so you don't have to think about what to say. People love personalized autographs, so ask for their name and spelling.

• If you are anticipating a huge turnout, prepare an autograph sheet with numbered blanks for people to print their names. When they get to you, you will have a sheet with the correct spelling of each autographee's name.

• Be sure to smile and exchange pleasantries with your fans. Ask them what their favorite story or song was, compliment them, talk to them. They remember those things.

• Keep your show face on. Even if you are “whooped” from a two-hour non-stop set, you were late coming in, or you only had two hours of sleep, don't let it show. You can crash in your hotel room or at home later.

• After you autograph the CD, thank your fan by name. It will mean the world to them.

Send out Press Releases
You should create a list of local, statewide, and national media outlets where you can send your press releases. Here are a couple of links for FREE press release distribution. www.prweb.com and www.free-press-release.com. Read more about generating publicity in Chapter 17 - Making the Headlines.

Send Out Postcards Advertising Your CD
Full-color postcards are affordable now. I purchase mine from www.vistaprint.com My graphic artist designs them and Vistaprint prints them. Consider creating 5 ½” X 8 ½” postcards, rather than the standard size postcard, for more impact.

Submit Your CD for Awards
There are all types of national awards available for recorded media (Parents’ Choice, iParenting Media, NAPPA, etc.). For awards, your release date or “street” date (the date it officially “hits the streets”) is important. This will determine which award cycle you fall into. Be warned that submitting your CD for awards is not cheap. There are fees involved - anywhere from $60 to $300. If you win an award, most of the awarding organizations will offer stickers for purchase, in addition to licensing. If you want to use their logo or image on your product or promo materials, you need to pay for the licensing rights. Winning an award gives you national credibility and sets you and your recording apart. You will forever be “award-winning.” Being an award winner also generates sales and media attention. See the awards/reviews chart at the end of this chapter.

Submit Your CD for Reviews
Most reviewers (ALSC Notable Recordings, ALA Booklist, AudioFile Magazine, School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.) require a review copy of your CD before or upon release. Reviews do not require a fee, usually just a copy or two of your product. The American Library Association publishes Booklist, a publication that features reviews of books and audio recordings. Sue Ellen Beauregard, Media Editor for Booklist, advises, “Submit your recording as soon as it is released.”

Robin Whitten, founder of AudioFile Magazine, says that in addition to reviewing audio books, AudioFile also reviews spoken word, text-based narratives, and storytelling audios. Robin says, “Reviewers look for the following criteria:

• Are the character voices and the narrative captivating?
• How does the narrative performance come across?
• Does the audio reflect character?
• Is the dialect or dialogue clear?
• Is the context of the story understandable?”

Robin says, “AudioFile likes receiving titles from lesser known companies and individuals. AudioFile reviewers delight in finding that ‘hidden gem.’”

“As a reviewer of audio products, I look for recordings that combine interesting stories with tellers who have the ability to bring them alive. Due to the absence of the visual dimension of a live performance, the teller needs to rely heavily on voice modulation, pacing, characterizations (including unique voices), sound effects (musical accompaniment is a plus), and a positive energy level in order to produce a product that brings the stories right out of the CD player and into the living room of the listener.”
Naomi Leithold, reviewer for Chicago Parent Magazine and ALA Booklist

Receiving great reviews in national publications such as Booklist, School Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly can lead to sales and catalog placements. It is also a great boost to your career, giving you more credibility as a performer.

Receive Radio Airplay
The truth is, mainstream radio generally does not play storytelling audios. So how do you receive airplay? Many college campuses play recordings from alternative and independent recording artists. This includes storytelling and spoken word. You can research the Internet for college campuses that play indie recordings. Also consider your local radio for the blind. They are hungry for material. If you have produced a storytelling audio for children, the best source for a radio airplay list is kidsmusicplanet.com. The list is maintained by children’s musician, Monty Harper, and contains listings for radio stations across the country that play indie children’s recordings, including storytelling. The listings include the D.J., the contact person, and the contact information. I have had great success with this list and Jambalaya has been played on radio stations across the U.S. Ask the radio station to provide listeners with CD ordering information. The Indie Bible is a great resource for promoting CDs by independent artists. It contains listings of radio stations and CD reviewers. There are also a plethora of Internet Radio Stations and Podcasts. A Google search of “Internet Radio Stations” will yield many results.

Offer Extras
Offer to gift-wrap and autograph CDs. It’s the special touch that can make a big difference. There are beautiful, flat paper bags into which CDs can be inserted. The flap can be folded over and sealed with a sticker. Reward customers with a freebie such as a sticker or a tattoo.

Having product to sell gives you instant credibility and labels you a professional. It also allows you to leave a legacy - a body of work that distinguishes your career as a performer. Yes, it takes an investment of time and money, both of which are always in short supply but like I always say, “It's worth it.” Here’s to soaring sales!

Note: This article is excerpted from The Story Biz Handbook: Managing Your Career from the Desk to the Stage (Libraries Unlimited; Fall 2008) by Dianne de Las Casas.

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Tags: Audio, CD, CDs, Recording, Self-Promotion, Storyteller, Storytelling, an

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Comment by Mylinda Butterworth on February 27, 2008 at 12:30pm
You are a wealth of information. I realize I will never know all there is too know about marketing. I believe half of my days are spent in marketing. Wish I could afford to pay someone to do that (I've been wishing for a long time).

Story Hugs,
MyLinda
Comment by Don 'Buck P' Creacy on February 26, 2008 at 11:00pm
Thanks for sharing this information... I did some of those things when I released my three Cds... but I can see that there is much much more that I need to do in the way of marketing... and to date... I don't think I have sold a single story on iTunes. But I am going to figure out a way to change that. Thanks again for this great advice.

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