Today I just wanted to write a little something about a topic I’ve been wanting to speak on for a while, I’ve tweeted about it a few times but It’s extremely hard to not come across as ridiculously passive-aggressive in 280 characters.
As you’ve probably picked up from the title, I’m talking about bundle deals, I’m sure you have all probably seen, encountered and many even picked up one of these but if you don’t know what they are, let me explain. Bundle deals are essentially where bands and artists (usual ones on major labels) release many different purchase options typically throughout the course of their album campaign. They may bring out a limited edition T-shirt, signed lithographs that you can only purchase alongside a copy of the album, usually always a physical copy. Or they’ll bring out a different colour vinyl or cassettes that then you’ll have to buy say with a CD or maybe they offer alternative sleeves and collector box editions. Whatever they can do to maximise the number of physical sales. A lot of the time there’s ‘limited numbers’ of these exclusive items to make you feel like you need it, even if it does mean you have to buy a 2nd,3rd,4th,5th copy and so on so forth.
Before I go on I just want to say this as a little disclaimer: When I asked my Instagram followers for their thoughts on this several people brought up Sports team and their marketing campaign for their debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ asking if this is what inspired this post, while they definitely did push their bundle deals, it was extremely self-aware and became a running joke between them and their fans. While I don’t 100% agree with it I have a lot of respect for them all both as people and musicians so please don’t think I’ve got any issues with them because people like to try read between the lines and create a narrative that simply doesn’t exist. Anyway, I digress…
There aren’t too many bands that I shop from their official web stores, I don’t particularly buy a lot of merch online, I usually just pick it up at gigs where I don’t have to pay postage, can get a better idea of sizing etc. I tend to order the vinyl copies from indie record stores websites so I’m never really in the position of feeling like I have to buy 1000 copies to get a T-shirt or whatever. However, that does not mean I get the pleasure of escaping them…sometimes it feels like my whole Twitter feed is full of labels and artists pushing their 10th ‘EXCLUSIVE LIMITED’ bundle and I’m just really fucking bored of it! I want to talk about a couple of examples here that have inspired this post and I do want to preface this with saying both of these artists are ones that I’m a massive fan of so it’s nothing personal because I know that this is totally out of their control to some extent and major labels are so manipulative and money-hungry but that’s a topic for another day.
Starting out with one of my favourite bands, the wonderful Creeper. I’ve been supporting them for a number of years now, seen them a couple of times live so of course when they announced their sophomore album ‘Sex, Death and the infinite void’ at the start of the year I ordered it online through an indie record store, can’t remember which one probably Resident or Banquet. It was the standard purple pressing I believe the only available version at the time. Since then I’ve seen other bundles being pushed on social media including one of just 3 different cassettes, others with T-shirts and the one that annoyed me, their masks.
So in the UK from today face masks are mandatory in shops, the announcement was made a few weeks back and shortly after I saw Creeper had tweeted out they were releasing some, I hadn’t ordered a reusable mask yet so rushed to the site to order them because there was emphasis on them being limited to 300. I then realised that to get one I had to buy a copy of the album, a physical one. The cheapest being a cassette that I don’t really want or need but I hesitantly brought it. I no longer have a cassette player, I did until recently but even when I did have one I never listened to cassettes and I truly don’t believe many people do. It’s wasteful and kinda manipulative in my opinion. The conversation was started on a Creeper fan page on Facebook where a couple of people were quick to point out that you could, in fact, buy the mask in its own through their label Roadrunners site but it’s is nowhere to be seen on Creepers own site, where they linked to every time they promoted it. While it’s not as extreme as the next artist I’m going to mention it still just didn’t sit right with me and in a way it makes me a little sad seeing one of my favourite small bands becoming a product flogging machine.
I know this can’t be applied to the mask because no one could have produced the pandemic but something that annoys me is when the bundles are put out one by one in the course of the campaign. Much like different vinyl variants, it restricts peoples choice and just encourages people to spend and spend on different products throughout the course of the months to the point they might not even realise they have 5 copies turning up at their door on release day. If it’s just about choice and exclusive products, not the money put them all out at the same time.
On to the one I know a lot of people will be waiting for, one that didn’t exist until yesterday. Miss Taylor Swift with her surprise 8th studio album ‘Folklore’. She released this album with, wait for it, 8 DIFFERENT COVERS! Each cover having it’s own vinyl copy and CD. Which you might be thinking, what’s wrong with that it’s just giving people choice. Well, when you click onto her website and there’s encouragement to ‘Collect all 8’. With every piece of her merchandise you have to purchase a digital album, so even if you just want the Pop socket, phone case, T-shirt, Hoddie or lithograph you have to get a download with that included in the price.
I struggle to comprehend that this is anything other than a pure cash grab, not to mention how unsustainable it is. I’ve seen young girls tweet out with screenshots of their orders showing they’ve mass brought them to show their support. It’s mental to me how this is a thing that’s happening. How many of them do you think are actually listening to the vinyl? My bet is not too many and that’s not me shading what anyone spends their own money on but I think when you’ve got such a large and dedicated fanbase it’s irresponsible to make them think that throwing all of their money at you is something you want to be encouraging. It’s taking advantage of ‘Stan’ culture and in my opinion, it’s manipulative.
Some may argue that I am hugely hypocritical ‘Lucy isn’t your whole Instagram feed filled with pictures of your many…many records’. Yeah, it is I agree but I truly don’t think (with the exception of Black Sabbath albums I ended up doubling up on because of the 10-year war boxset) that I have multiple copies of any one album. I also only purchase records that I know I’ll listen to, hence why compared to some peoples, my collection is pretty small, I could easily go out and buy or pre-order loads of records that I’ll never listen to but I value the music that I purchase and aim to be as sustainable as possible. Even if my favourite artists in the whole world were to release 8 versions of an album I wouldn’t even consider it.
When I asked my followers a lot of people said they’re bored of seeing it but wouldn’t mind smaller independent artists doing it and I agree. I barely see indie artists pushing bundles, it’s always the major label backed artists that I think goes into making it feel so insincere. We’re a generation so well educated and conscious of our environmental footprint so it’s surprising that there are so many bands and artists still so keen to sell physical products they know will not be used. I completely understand and emphasise that the situation we’re in is totally unique and that the whole industry has taken a hit but let’s be honest stuff like this has been happening for a while now but I’ve just had a lot more time to think about it recently.
I know how business works and how this industry is driven by money, I understand why labels use these techniques but it’s the fact they make it so obvious what they’re doing annoys me, especially when I see my favourite bands doing it. Using Creeper as an example again, they have such an amazingly solid core fanbase who will buy every T-shirt they put out because they want the shirt, so just release the shirt. I know labels want their artists to chart well and I know what that can do for an artist but it’s making the chart lose it’s prestige so eventually, I truly believe this strategy will backfire on itself.
I’m so interested in hearing what you guys think so let me know either win the comments on here or over on my Instagram @lucy_mccourt_blog. I always love having conversations with you and who knows, you might be able to convince me all this is justified.