Direct-to-fan technology provider Topspin has finally opened up its platform to all comers. CEO Ian Rogers calls the new Topspin a "warmer, friendlier site and application" and says the company will release a new version of the software every week.
To see an example of Topspin's self-serve tools in action, check out the web site of the artist TRICIL.
Now that Topspin is squarely in the self-serve market, can it compete with the host of other companies that serve the independent artist? There certainly is good competition. While Topspin was focusing on building products for more successful artists, companies such as Bandcamp, Nimbit, ReverbNation and Moontoast were targeting the larger market for independent artists (larger by volume, if not value).
Independent artists can now choose three levels of service at Topspin. The first tier, simply called Topspin, costs $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year (plus transaction fees).That gets you a Topspin store, widgets and the ticketing platform. Topspin Plus costs $49.99 per month or $499.99 per year (plus transaction fees). This level adds integrated email marketing, membership products and automated pre-orders. Topspin Enterprise goes for $999.99 per year (plus transaction fees). It includes split payments to third parties, label accounting and custom fulfillment integration.
The fees Topspin takes are very similar to those of its competitors (aside from a small $0.14-per-gigabyte bandwidth fee). It takes a standard 15% of music and merch sales and 10% of ticket sales (its competitors do not have a ticketing solution). In addition, Topspin and other services charge standard processing fees.
Prior to inviting independent artists, Topspin took members on an invite-only basis. It had focused on helping more established artists such as the Pixies, Brian Eno and Interpol. Topspin offered them enterprise-level tools that required a bit of know-how.
Is taking on a host of competition a good move for Topspin? While the market is becoming more crowded, Topspin has three years of experience in building and marketing powerful, effective direct-to-fan tools. It is the most visible of the companies - due in part to the highly public profile of Rogers - and has become a thought leader in the digital arena. And it's an efficient marketing machine, offering best practices and case studies to showcase its expertise.
But Topspin definitely has tough competition. Billboard has heard from many industry insiders that Bandcamp appears to have some advantages: it has a small staff and has kept overhead low, it does not charge a monthly fee and it has built a strong, grass roots following by continuously improving the product based on user feedback. Nimbit and ReverbNation both have long histories and a good amount of expertise. And newcomer Moontoast Impulse could separate itself from the pack by focusing just on the Facebook platform.
The more important question is if there is enough money in direct-to-fan to support these companies. Most music and merch revenue goes to the major labels, which are not as active in direct-to-fan sales as smaller labels and independent artists. And since they have their own ecommerce platforms, all or most of the meaty part of this market may be off the table. That leaves the less valuable part of the market for various self-serve platforms to fight for. How many direct-to-fan companies can be sustained on 15% of that smaller market?