No Idea’s Geis is seeing a similarly dis-incentivizing price jump in what they ship. “We've definitely had to raise our prices. Our records are right around $10. Before, sending one to Europe, it would be $9 or $10 to send [a one or two-pound package]. Now when you're shipping that $9 or $10 record, it's more in the $20 range now to ship. Those base low-weight prices are pretty bad.” The more you ship, he points out, the more things kind of even out, toward the six- or seven-pound range. So what does that mean for their international orders? More calculated purchasing, he thinks. “What I'm hoping is—and this is total speculation—is that the orders might not be quite as frequent, but they'll be bigger. Maybe two or three kids getting together to place a bigger order, to split the postage up.”
Another workaround that has been bandied about is the idea of dealing with middlemen in markets, like Europe, where indie labels do regular business. A label would ship records in larger bundles to reduce cost, to people who would then go onto to ship them within the country of destination. Whether or not that would be feasible for a label like No Idea isn't clear. They are also a distributor, so they have good channels through the record stores they sell through internationally. “A record broker seems like a cool idea in theory,” Geis says. “I don't know how that would work. Say you were a record broker and needed to collect a certain amount of orders before you placed your order. Would that take a week? Two months? The longer time periods seems like it might not be worth it.”
Run For Cover Records founder Jeff Casazza says pre-orders of new releases have been hit particularly hard. The label is now dealing with thousands of records sold at pre-price increase rates.“It's important to be able to sell direct” for a small label, however, Casazza says. “And that's getting more difficult.” While shipping more to companies in Europe and the UK that carry their records might help, shipping in bulk to distributors is just more of a hassle in his estimation. Direct orders make more money for the label, impose less of an additional cost on the customer, and help labels determine how many copies of a record to ship on future pressings.
On the plus side, the end result may be music fans purchasing records directly through those record stores, another group of small businesses always on the brink of insolvency. Worst-case scenario, the prohibitive shipping fees lead to even more illegal downloading than we're already seeing.
“This will probably just help push kids more toward digital,” Hydra Head’s Cox says, although he's optimistic that's in the legal sense. “Hopefully, it seems like people are kind of coming around and realizing that taking [music] for free is affecting not just giant labels. I feel like there's been more of a responsibility for people feeling like they need to support smaller labels and artists, through paying for digital, buying merch, even donating through PayPal.”
“I think that the people who are buying our records and records from similar labels are upset about this because they want to own the physical product,” Casazza says. “It's already so easy to download the record, if this was going to push them over the edge they already would've been over that edge."
“I'm sure [more illegal downloading] has got to be a result of this for sure,” says No Idea’s Geis. “I just don't know. I hope that's not enough to start putting places out of business. I think right now it's just a sticker-shock kind of thing with people seeing these kinds of prices going up so much, it's going to make them really reevaluate the way they way order records. They're gonna have to be more strategic and might have to wait until they want two or more things.”
In other words, music fans will have to think harder about ways to more efficiently use their money. There's one easy way to do that. As Casazza points out, he's seen plenty of people joking on message boards about how great the increase in shipping costs are; think of all the money they're saving by not buying all the records that they usually would have.