Will it ruin music downloads?

As a longtime Bandcamp user, Epic Games’ acquisition of the online music storefront has me nervous.

Both companies are saying all the right things about the acquisition: that Bandcamp’s existing products and services aren’t going anywhere, that it will continue to fairly compensate artists, and that Epic’s support will accelerate the development of things users already want, like like better search and better site design.

Yet the main reason I love Bandcamp so much is also the one I suspect Epic cares about the least: it’s a place where you can buy and download albums instead of renting them through streaming services. As this model becomes increasingly obsolete for music consumers, I’m afraid an Epic-owned Bandcamp may downplay it or abandon it entirely at some point.

Why Bandcamp is different

Bandcamp isn’t the only place where you can still buy and download music. Apple has its iTunes store and Amazon still sells MP3s. The Quboz streaming service also has a download store, and there are several lesser-known places to buy songs, including 7Digital and HDTracks.

Even so, Bandcamp is still my first stop for several reasons:

  • His inclinations as independent artists tend to merge with my own musical tastes.
  • It makes downloading songs extremely easy, without having to log into an account or authenticate your computer. (You can also stream songs purchased out-of-the-box through Bandcamp’s app.)
  • There is no surcharge for lossless audio formats such as FLAC or WAV.

This last point is particularly important to me and extremely rare among music stores. While I can’t always tell the difference between a high-quality MP3 and FLAC file, the idea of ​​paying for an album that’s already degraded from its original quality bothers me on principle, having grown up in the age of CD.

Of course, I also appreciate that Bandcamp is a better way to support musicians than streaming services or even other download stores. The company only takes a 15% cut from digital music sales — that’s half of Apple’s revenue for iTunes — and it’s waived that fee on the first Friday of most months since March 2020. Every album page is also customized for the artist, and you can always choose to pay more than the asking price for a song or album. Epic itself cites Bandcamp’s artist-friendliness as one of its reasons for buying the company, so it at least understands the value of treating musicians fairly.

But I would say that these elements go hand in hand with the nerdier qualities of Bandcamp. One of the main reasons I gave up on services like Spotify seven years ago is that they made music feel like disposable. When you have access to millions of songs on demand, it’s easy to never give any of them the in-depth listening they deserve. With Bandcamp’s model, buying an album feels like an investment in both the music and the artist, and as a result, it’s the best place to buy music on the web.

What will Epic do?

To be fair, I have no concrete reason to think Epic will be ditching downloadable music, and neither Epic nor Bandcamp have indicated any fundamental changes are coming.

Still, the download pattern is clearly heading towards obscurity. In 2020, revenue from downloads fell 18% across the music industry as a whole according to the RIAA, and it only accounted for 6% of total recorded music revenue. This trend continued in the RIAA’s mid-year report for 2021, which showed a further 6% decline in year-over-year revenue.

So it’s fair to wonder if a company on the scale of Epic Games could possibly lose interest in this model. Bandcamp has dabbled in subscriptions before – albeit at the artist and label level rather than its entire catalog – and some people to have speculated that Epic could possibly try to launch its own music subscription service.

Even if that doesn’t happen, Epic’s larger goals have little to do with maintaining original indie showcases for music nerds. Instead, his ambitions are to build something bigger – a platform, or a metaverse, in which music is just one facet. “Bandcamp will play an important role in Epic’s vision to create a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more,” the company’s acquisition statement reads. .

This could very well end up working well for musicians. I just hope this doesn’t spoil what makes Bandcamp special for listeners.

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