april 23, 2016
My band is using a fully automated CD/DVD manufacturer, Kunaki, to release the album we recorded last year. This company is mysterious; their stark white poker face is so brutalist web with its terse FAQs and casual declarations of their bottom-dollar pricing. They've been around since 2005; they're based in a place called Sparks, Nevada; and they claim more than 100 new discs are submitted for production every 24 hours.
Could this mean physical media isn't dead after all? Also, how much new content is being churned out? If there's 100 new discs a day, that's well over 350,000 CDs and DVDs per year; of course, some of those might be duplicate orders rather than original material. Even still, this is just one distributor; there's a bunch of others like it. It's hard to say if the continued production of physical discs is because they continue to be desirable, or if it's just because they're dirt cheap. The unit price for our order of 100 CDs is something like $1.38.
That $1.38 includes album art - a two-sided cover insert, the back traycard (including the spines), and printing on the disc itself. Instead of communicating with a human about the layout, you have the option of following a list of required dimensions or using their web app to upload your art and edit text, font size, and image positioning right on the site. In case you're worried you've screwed something up, you can get a test copy printed and sent to you before proceeding with a complete order (yep, we're gonna be taking advantage of that).
Kunaki's model of on-demand manufacturing also includes distribution. They allow you to use a sales page that comes along with any product upload, or if you prefer to use your own sales method, you can have them drop ship to stores and customers directly. You can easily repeat orders, only buying what you anticipate you'll need as you go along.
"You can easily change your product, discontinue products, and create new products," it says on the distribution page, the text of which has some manifesto-worthy moments. "This is what the 21st century is all about." Indeed.
Browsing through the gallery of recent submissions reveals a bunch of classical records, underground rap, progressive rock and metal, ambient, and international artists. Two of the CDs in the image below are from the same new age/ambient artist who has about five other releases sprinkled on these pages of recent orders. I wonder if anybody makes any money off this stuff. I wonder if that's even the point. It's very reifying to hold a physical copy of your self-released, self-produced album, whatever medium it might be in. A Soundcloud or Bandcamp stream just isn't quite the same.
I can't help but wonder if our CD is about to be printed by one dude in a bugout shelter in the desert, some eccentric tinkerer surrounded by machinery and the extra copies he makes of each disc submitted to Kunaki. He cycles through gospel, goa trance, kids' singalongs, renditions of Bach, and meditation tracks. He follows a few minutes of chair aerobics here and there, learns about painting techniques, and digests the latest round of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Each time a submission is uploaded, he hits a button or two; the printers start whirring, whatever metadata used to facilitate sales is ingested.
Hypothetical Kunaki guy is a man on a mission to help everybody who's ever wanted a physical copy of their self-help video or children's choir or 30-minute jam session. For $1.38 a piece, plenty of us can solidify those moments as long as we see fit - and as many times as we feel are needed - before we go changing, discontinuing, or creating them again.
Update: Here's our album, in all its Kunakified glory. Had some trouble with it skipping the first few times it was played in a car, but other than that, it's on point. And $1.38-a-poppers can't be choosers, y'know?
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