While the vinyl revival reveals music fans’ attachment to an enduring format, it’s actually being partly driven by the latest technology. Launched in 2015, Qrates is an on-demand marketplace and crowd-funding platform that enables its clients to organise vinyl pressing and packaging via an interface that’s recently become accessible on smartphone.
In just under three years, Qrates has hosted crowd-funding projects from 59 countries and pressed 62,678 vinyl records for 243 individual releases. As vinyl lovers get ready for Record Store Day, Music Week gets the inside story on the Japanese company’s expansion with CEO Yong-bo Bae…
Did the vinyl revival directly inspire the launch of the company?
Qrates was not launched in response to the vinyl revival, but rather a genuine passion for vinyl and drive to create something meaningful for both artists and music lovers. Investors may love to see that there’s momentum in the market, but we really don’t focus on that fact alone. At the end of the day, our ambition is to take the “revival” to the next level.
How are you helping labels and artists drive vinyl sales?
Hopefully, in many ways. We have a suite of tools for artists to create incentives for fans with digital bonus tracks and more. The order management system is specifically optimised for vinyl pressing. We’re constantly adding new retail partners to our Store Delivery network, which is our distribution programme. When an artist opts in to Store Delivery, they can set their own wholesale price and we get their music in front of our global network of store partners. Additionally, now in our third year, we’ve accumulated a very unique user base of very passionate music fans, many of which first got introduced to Qrates by an artist they follow. We try our best to make sure that we provide extended value to them by introducing great music on Qrates to the right crowd.
How have you expanded and refined the service?
Many artists and labels have used our crowd-funding tools that we’ve had since day one. In February, we rolled out our biggest product update which increased our vinyl pressing variations to more than 12,000 variations, and the option to use Qrates without publishing a pre-order/crowd-funding project – essentially, using Qrates as a pressing service. Our pressing and direct-to-fan shipping services have been a popular option for artists too.
How important is the smartphone functionality?
We’re at a point where consumers expect anything and everything to work seamlessly across devices. A big part of our offering to artists is the ability to create and order vinyl through a WYSIWYG-type builder, which initially did not support smartphone functionality due to 3D rendering functionality. We’ve solved this in our latest update and can now say that everything works across devices.
Who are your clients?
As a marketplace, we have both artists, who create projects on Qrates, and the fans and retail stores who support and pre-order vinyl are our users. We are definitely seeing social word of mouth being a strong component in attracting more users. The US is our biggest territory, with UK/EU and Japan following in order.
How are you supporting Record Store Day?
Although every day feels like Record Store Day in a way for us, we’ve offered artists on Qrates a discount on vinyl pressing services.
What do you think the outlook is for vinyl – has the growth peaked?
I think it’s important to note that this question has now been asked through 12 years of consecutive increased growth. I believe there’s still a lot of potential for growth for vinyl and that we are nowhere near “peak vinyl” mainly for two reasons. One, in sharp contrast to digital distribution, many artists and labels believe that pressing vinyl requires a significant financial investment and is not turnkey. We’re definitely trying to solve this. Second, as streaming continues to grow, it will continue to turn on more music fans to more products and experiences, vinyl being one of them. There are challenges we in the vinyl industry all should be aware of, like pricing, turnaround speed, and awareness. But I’m confident that the vinyl consumer demographic will be a very important segment of the music industry for future years to come.