Over the last couple of years, digital downloads have rapidly overtaken the CD as the consumers preferred choice for acquiring new music. With this in mind, we clearly need to move with the times. Since starting our school recording business back in 2004 we have always supplied CDs. All the discs are professionally packaged in Jewel cases with retail quality artwork / booklets and then cellophane wrapped. The aim has always been to provide a smart product which is exactly as you would find in the shops. Firstly this gives the children something to be really proud of – they’ve record a ‘real CD’. And secondly it helps the schools sell them for more money which, in turn, makes more profit for school funds.
Selling CDs in Schools
For years, the CD has ruled the roost when it comes to distributing audio. But, times are changing. Apple invented the iPod back in 2001 and since then sales have CDs have consistently dropped year on year. However, whilst digital music is all very convenient and there are solutions such as Apple Music and Spotify which offer subscribers millions of albums in return for a monthly fee, this isn’t particularly useful for schools.
The main advantage of the CD is the fact it allows schools to sell a physical product. Most of the schools we work with take pre orders for the album and a lot of schools now use something called ‘parent pay’. This is an online system whereby parents can pay for school items in advance and then take delivery. This might be an item of uniform or a school trip, or indeed in our case a School CD.
Around Christmas time, lots of schools use their Christmas fair, or similar event, to sell CDs. This would typically be done by setting up a stall with some CDs on the table and maybe some photographs of the event. The concept is very simple and just like a ‘market stall’. The customer can come to the table, have a look at the CD (schools often play one in the background too) and then quite simply exchange a £10 in return for a copy of the album. At this point the transaction is concluded – all very simple.
Selling Digital Albums
If we turn this around and consider the option of a digital product, suddenly this is much harder for schools to sell. Taking pre orders wouldn’t change – parents could still send in a cheque or use online payment solutions if the school offers this. However, how do the school go about distributing the product. Short of all schools suddenly redesigning their websites to host digital audio and make it available in a secure way, realistically the only way would be for us to host the digital files.
That side of things for us isn’t a problem. Our parent company already has an online shop to sell digital downloads but this requires people to pay. If the school already have the money how do we know who to make the album available to?
Let’s also consider the School Summer or Christmas Fair. If you take away the physical product from the stall, then how do you sell a digital / online album. Realistically the only way would be to simply have a sign (or perhaps a QR code if you want to be clever) to send people to a website (ours) in order to buy the CD. This could work but it involves parents then having to sign up for something and sort out credit card details etc. And also, the parents don’t know much about Recordings 4 Schools. Yes we know we have set things up properly, but some parents might think, no I’m not giving my card details to this website.
And even if we did go down that route, we then have to process the order and work out which parent is from which school and then account for the ‘profit’ back to the school. All in all, it might be the digital world but this simply isn’t a workable solution for our school CDs.
So what do we do? Well taking all this into account, really the only solution is to provide both options. We need to give schools the option of selling physical product so it is an ‘easy’ sell for them. The only way of achieving this is to exchange a CD / physical box in return for money on parent pay or cash / cheque. But the parents increasingly want the files online as more and more do not have CD players, even in the car.
To get round this, from 2019 all our CDs will include a link inside the case for parents to access a digital copy of the album which they can obtain from a protected area of our website. No credit card or sign up is necessary. All you need is to have bought a copy of the CD to obtain an access code for the download.
The system is still being trialled and may well undergo some refinement during the course of the coming months, but the principle is to make it easier for schools to sell even more albums whilst retaining the physical product along with all the artwork and other benefits it brings to the project.
The issue of CD versus digital downloads forms the basis of this podcast with Ian Rockey, Headteacher at Westwood with Iford Primary School in Wiltshire. We have recorded a couple of albums at Westwood School, the first in 2014 and then a follow up album in 2018. Earlier this month I caught up with Ian just before the start of term to ask his views on CDs versus Digital downloads.