So you want to make an independent CD eh? Well you’ll have to ship it, and you don’t have the benefit of bulk/volume discounts that the big CD stores and labels can take advantage of. Obviously you can’t weight and price every order individually when it is placed online, so you have to set up a fair price that covers your butt without overcharging the nice folks buying your CD. Here is a rundown of our recent experiences with shipping out the hundreds of pre-orders for our (Solamors) independent album “Depravity’s Demise”. This info should be useful for setting up pricing on a merch page like Bandcamp, or a crowd-funding page like Kickstarter:
I often see banter online where people are complaining because they think they are being overcharged by bands for shipping… and sometimes they are, but other times they are just misinformed or they checked the USPS online calculator and put the wrong information in without knowing the actual USPS guidelines. There are also some “guides” that I have seen online at places like eBay, etc that are horribly out of date and/or straight-up inaccurate for international shipping costs… don’t listen to them.
Also, some people have a skewed perspective of how much things actually cost, which is reasonable if they don’t do much shipping themselves. North American countries outside the US boarder particularly seem to think that it only costs a bit more than USA shipping prices to send a package there… nope, not anymore. We ended up paying almost 3 times as much as the US price for all the orders to countries just across the border.
Our actual CD mailing costs:
Here are the shipping prices we ended up paying for 1st class mail, 4oz, package rate (even though CDs ship in an envelope, they consider it a ‘package’ because it is inflexible and varies in thickness, so they charge package rate):
USA = $2.25-$2.55 (post office price), $1.86 (online bulk price)
Canada = $7.15-$7.35 (varied by province)
Overseas = $9.15-$9.45 (varied by country)
(We either paid at the post office, or pre-paid online and printed out the label… whichever was available/cheapest for the destination.)
AND don’t forget the supplies! They cost money that adds up fast. Supplies per-CD:
Padded mailer = $0.25 (bubble-wrap and envelope) – $0.69 (Staples padded mailer)
Tape (for securing flap and label) = $0.19
Printer ink = $0.10 (we got about 160 labels and 30 customs forms out of 1 cartridge)
Label paper = $0.02
That can cost a dollar a CD, which doesn’t sound like much, but as an example if you sell 200 orders and don’t charge for that, it’s $200 of hard-earned cash coming out of your pocket.
Entering the data, printing, filling out customs forms, picking, packing, labeling averaged about 7-12 minutes per CD. Luckily for us the post office is only a few blocks away, so that took about 10 minutes total, but that number could be much larger if you have to travel there… WE didn’t charge for handling, but I don’t think that it is unreasonable for someone else to charge an extra $1 or so for packing+handling time and gas money to get the supplies and drop the packages off at the post office, so I’ll that to the high-price in the ranges below to reflect that possibility.
So that means that I think it would be fair (depending on what discounts they can get and if they add a handling fee) for a band to charge :
$2.42-$4.00 for USA shipping (our ‘actual cost’ was between $2.86-$3.55)
$7.71-$9.00 for Canada (our ‘actual cost’ was between $7.71-$8.35)
$9.71-$11.00 for overseas (our ‘actual cost’ was between $9.71-$10.45)
On our Bandcamp orders, we don’t charge anything for handling/packing/gas/time. As of this post, we charge $3.50 USA, $7.50 Canada, and $10 overseas, so on some orders we lose a few cents and other orders we make a few cents, but it all averages out close to our actual cost.
Another example from a large CD shipping house: CDBaby charges $3.63 USA, $7.54 Canada.
Insider tip: using prepaid labels from the paypal site gets you the bulk rate on USA shipping without having to ship 500+ packages to get it, so that is a cheaper option if you are shipping just a few orders at once.
Also, customs forms for international orders are a pain in the butt, so don’t forget to print and fill out customs forms at home from the USPS website. That will save you a lot of time at the post office, and attitude from the employees.
One more thing: we drastically under-charged for shipping on our Kickstarter campaign for the album… partially as a bonus to our Kickstarter backers, but also because the CD production took so long that the shipping prices changed and we got stuck paying the difference. International orders in particular hit us hard since we only charged an extra $2 per CD for international shipping, and the actual price when we finished everything went up near $10. So plan ahead for that as best you can if you are going to launch a pre-order campaign before the album is finished.
Hope that helps. -Alex