Thursday, March 06, 2008

The truth about CD Baby and SNOCAP

I had held off on posting this on 10/7/07, but decided to do so now. Most of it is moot, but I figured I'd share my thoughts none the less...

There have been a number of recent comments about the announced "split" between CD Baby and SNOCAP. The tone of some of these comments is rather negative, or at least infer that SNOCAP dropped the ball somehow. Having been close to the situation, I have a perspective on this, although mine is not an official SNOCAP perspective or necessarily endosed by SNOCAP or CD Baby.

CD Baby was a mis-fit for SNOCAP, at least in the way that they engaged. SNOCAP treated CD Baby like an aggregator, similar to The Orchard or IODA. CD Baby is a distributor for indie artists, and not a label aggregator. Aggregators, like major and indie labels, deliver their content to SNOCAP in batch. SNOCAP must then process this content and determine how to map it to SNOCAP MyStores in a meaningful way. This is harder than it may sound, since the concept of a store widget is not part of the metadata language spoken by a record label. For independent artists who sign up directly with SNOCAP and assemble their MyStores by hand, it's an interactive, individual operation performed by the artist. These hand-crafted stores are then placed on MySpace pages and elsewhere. When dealing with labels and aggregators, this operation must be automated, and it's not a perfect process.

CD Baby delivered the content of its members to SNOCAP in batch. SNOCAP created stores based on artist information delivered by CD Baby, but sometimes artist information varied, so the mapping of stores to artists wasn't accurate. When artists wanted to adjust their stores, they had to log in to SNOCAP with a sub-account created on their behalf by SNOCAP with information from CD Baby. The login information was delivered to them via email from CD Baby, but it frequently was not delivered successfully. If artists wanted to add new content to their stores, they would have to submit it to CD Baby and wait for the batch update to be delivered to SNOCAP.

SNOCAP and CD Baby struggled to provide good customer service to these artists. If an artist attempted to upload tracks to SNOCAP using their own account, and the same tracks were delivered to SNOCAP by CD Baby, they would be flagged as "in dispute" by the SNOCAP content identification system. If artists were actively using the SNOCAP MyStore to sell music online, they were advised to ask CD Baby to withold their content from the batch feed, and to create their own account with SNOCAP. This approach has now become the default, per the announcement referenced in the sited links.

CD Baby and SNOCAP share constituents--they both serve indie artists. It is unfortunate that the nature of their partnership didn't yield a service with a value greater than the sum of the parts. I think that a more natural relationship would have been an affiliate relationship, where CD Baby artists could be referred to SNOCAP and vice versa, with a financial benefit for doing so. Hopefully the imperfect nature of the relationship between these two companies doesn't sour artists' impressions of either, since any mishandling was an artifact of the imperfect data being shared between companies. Could they have done a better job? Perhaps, but not without significant investment by both companies to expand the nature of their technical integration.
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