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Make Room in the Dot-Com Graveyard - Riffage.com Joins the Pack!
Is Serving the Independent Music Market Profitable? CD Baby Continues to Think So.
By Margee Fagelson
(more articles from this author)
2000-12-12
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For the past 18 months, Riffage has pioneered efforts to unite fans and musicians -- building a loyal following for emerging artists and using the power of the Internet to expose new music. Pioneers enjoy the thrills of new frontiers, but must also deal with the risks inherent in uncharted territories.

Having reached out to a million fans and tens of thousands of bands, we cannot continue to service these fine communities in the current economic marketplace. As of December 8th, Riffage will cease operations.

We would like to thank the artists, fans, writers, labels, and partners who helped us over the last 18 months.
The Riffage Team

Riffage.com closed its doors on Friday, December 8. Although this was no great surprise, it was no less a tragedy. Less than a month ago, Wired News' Brad King reported that they were looking for a buyer. Word is that a buyer has been found for two of their other assets - the Great American Music Hall, which will continue to operate under current management, and 1500 Records.

From the Riffage.com website:

1. What happens to the assets, accounts payable, and accounts receivable?
As of December 8th, the Riffage website will cease operations and both the Great American Music Hall and 1500 Records will be sold to new owners. The financial affairs of these sales, payables, and receivables will be managed by Richard Couch of Diablo Management Group at dmg2000@aol.com. Team

From an industry perspective, Riffage had gotten very quiet. In this day and age and climate of music dot-coms, no news is often the harbinger of bad news. Riffage was one of the brave new music dot-coms who were still making a big splash as late as CMJ this October. Unlike its chronological competitors, ArtistDIRECT and Listen.com, Riffage was truly dedicated to the emerging artist. Promotions, streams and sales were all options on the Riffage site. In fact, of all the indie-friendly companies out there, many have gone down in flames or are at least a little crispy around the edges: spinrecords.com, The Orchard (crispy,) Songs.com/Gaylord Digital (flames.) The only apparent flourishing company is CD Baby.

Derek Sivers of CD Baby, which has been selling musicians CDs on the web successfully for 3 years, said, "I have mixed feelings about all these companies I considered to be 'the competition' closing down. It gives you a survivor's smile. But it makes you think, 'Oh come on - couldn't you have tried harder than that? Did it really take 120 employees and $25 million to run a website?' Am I the only one who set up a company to be profitable without any investors or advertising? It's like all the Goliaths are crashing to the ground, and little David didn't even have to sling a rock."

More from Riffage.com:

1. I have placed an order for merchandise. Will I receive it?
Yes. All orders placed have been processed and mailed. The items you ordered should arrive within seven to ten business days.
2. Will I still receive an introductory free CD?
Any fans that signed up after November 1st will not receive a free CD. Free CDs for fans that signed up prior to November 1, 2000, have been sent out and should be arriving in the next week or two.
3. Will anyone be able to access my personal details, playlists, or reviews?
No. The site is closed and at the present time the data is no longer accessible by anyone.

Riffage is trying their best to make good to their artists:
1. What will happen to my merchandise at your warehouse?
We have instructed the warehouse, Tooh Dineh Industries, to ship back all unsold artist merchandise. It will be shipped to you, at Riffage's expense, and should arrive in approximately eight weeks.
2. How will I be paid for merchandise sold?
It is Riffage's desire to make sure all artists are paid for merchandise sold during this fourth quarter (some artists are also owed nominal amounts (less than $20) for merchandise sold in prior quarters). We will be handing the payment details over to a third party that will be assisting us in the payment process.
3. Will anyone be able to access my music, account details, or personal details?
No. The site is closed and the data is no longer accessible by anyone.

Derek Sivers continues, "I feel bad for the musicians who pass around a URL saying, "Buy our CD here!" and three months later that link is dead. CD Baby has been working with other online record stores like this that are closing down, trying to help them fulfill their promise to giving musicians a permanent place to sell their CDs."

And Sivers' point is a good one. Who knows how many artists are out there with no idea where to turn to vend their goods anymore? CDBaby is a strong company with more than three years and a sturdy business model behind them. Sivers' philosophy seems to be, 'Do one thing and do it well.'

Unfortunately, Riffage was one of the few sites which really did take an interest in independent artists. Their featured artist section was a monthly feature, which concentrated on a select act, with interviews and color pictures and overall impressive spreads.

One such featured artist was The Amazing Meet Project, from Gig Records. Michael Ferentino, frontman of the group said, "The Amazing Meet Project was a featured artist for Riffage. We were also flown out by them to San Francisco earlier this year to perform in a Riffage live show broadcast on the Internet and mc'd by Bijou Phillips. Although I have nothing but great things to say about everyone involved with the company, I had my doubts from the beginning as to whether or not the Internet was going to "break" any bands that didn't go through "the system," i.e. radio bombardment, millions of dollars in advertisements, videos and extensive touring with established acts. I don't believe the Internet alone is going to break any artists anytime soon, without the combination of the aforementioned system with a substantial amount of cash. It's unfortunate, but it seems that the masses still need to be spoon-fed their music in order to commit wholeheartedly to making an actual purchase. People want to buy music from "stars", not "artists," period. The Internet, however is a great place for artists to have their music heard by those who are seeking something other than what they are being told is hot. Record labels and their money will still be needed for artists seeking mass appeal for some time to come."

The Amazing Meet Project can also be heard in the new Kevin Smith (Mallrats, Clerks, Dogma) film, "A Better Place." Ferentino has been lending his time not so much to the Meets as to other projects, not the least of which is playing with Miles Hunt, formerly of Wonderstuff. Though Ferentino and The Amazing Meet Project are doing fine. without the special push Riffage gave them, they would have been – on Riffage, at least – one of many faceless artists. Complaints abounded about the confusing abundance of talent to choose from – the website was often an experience akin to shopping in a foreign candy store – they were providing a service few were willing to shoulder.

Riffage may have expanded – both in properties and in staff – before it was ready to. Though, if a smart core staff were all that was necessary to keep a company afloat, surely they would have flourished. Of course, not only is hindsight 20/20 but it's easy to comment from the outside, speculating in.

Derek Sivers again, "The *size* of the organization you set up seems to be inversely proportionate to its lifespan. Couldn't Riffage have downsized to be a tight and profitable 3-person company? There's a flexible strength to having a 3-person company, where there's no need for investors and the employees and company are making a nice profit."

Riffage was definitely one of the good guys. Maybe if they’d spent their marketing dollars hiring me instead of buying 1500 Records, they’d still be around. Maybe not. One thing is for sure, the biggest tragedy in this is that I now have to retire my favorite T-shirt to the dead-dot-com collectors' item pile. Sniff.

Linkography

ArtistDIRECT - www.artistdirect.com
CDBaby - www.cdbaby.com
CMJ - www.cmj.com
Gig Records - www.gigrecords.com
Listen.com - www.listen.com
The Amazing Meet Project - www.gigrecords.com/amp/
Wired News - www.wirednews.com

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Spinning Out of Control, the Death of Another Dot Com - Solutions Media, Inc. and SpinRecords.com Shut Their Doors (2000-10-12)
» Employees of Dot Coms - Don't Quit Your Day Jobs...You Might Just Be Laid Off (2000-09-25)
» CD Baby - An Icon Of Indie Retailing - Streaming Interview w/ Derek Sivers (2000-06-20)

Related News from Mi2N:
» As Of December 8th, Riffage Will Cease Operations


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