The Table Sales Mentality

At the Blogger Conference, we talked about how artists tend to focus on table sales and not retail, even though retail accounts for 60% to 70% of their total unit sales.

Since the conference, I’ve wondered why this is the case. Perhaps it is because many contracts are worded such that the artists only starts getting album royalties once costs are recouped. Since albums cost quite a bit to produce, there may be cases where an album does not break even, costs are never recouped, and thus the artist never sees money from retail sales.

Now artists undoubtedly want their album to sell as many copies as possible in a retail setting. But if 75% to 100% of their money from a project comes from table sales, then I can see how they would focus on that.


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11 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. It is a real catch22. The artist need to fill the tank on the bus to get to the next concert and the labels need to recoup their investment in the artist.

    While the scans from retail will benefit both artist and label it is difficult to make a move from business as usual. It’s like changing your payday from weekly to monthly. How do you survive for those 3 weeks while waiting on that check? The groups still have to be paid and the payments keep coming and the fuel.. oh the summertime fuel bills that await the groups. Will those Prevost buses burn that diesel made from leftover fryer grease??

    Something else to consider is that while the artist may never see the money from retail if the project doesn’t have enough retail sales the labels are also big losers from the front money that they never get back. Not to mention all those shipments from the stores that get shipped back.

    I think some of the issues that we need to deal with are looking for ways to make sure that everybody gets to survive. The labels, writers, artists, radio stations, media, studios, promoters, session players, photographers (maybe we can delete them from the list because they are already worked to death in Southern Gospel! LOL!!)

    Has anyone ever looked at leveling the playing field between retail & table sales to put the process on an equal footing. Maybe if artist gave up some of the table sales percentage and the labels gave up some on the retail percentage so that both sides had an incentive to see both methods succeed? Just a thought? If the labels could ever come up with a way to make the process less painful for the artist I think most artist realize the benefit of the retail scans. Our industry may be bigger than we think but until we start scanning all sales we will never know.

    But then you put everyone’s real sales numbers out there and some groups may be afraid of that. A hit in southern gospel would be considered a total flop in most any other genre.

    It is going to be a real challenge but one we have to seriously look at if the genre is going to do more than just get by.

    Labels cannot live by table sales alone…. but by every retail scan that proceedeth out the door of Walmart.. (Yes I did just make that up! LOL!!) King Charles Translation

  2. As been mentioned earlier, table sales represents quick turn around capital for the artists.
    Table sales is like a traveling new car dealer showroom. You better get the sale before the customer leaves or the same customer might fall in love with another product down the road.
    The question of sales always brings up the question of the big box stores like WalMart or Best Buy. You really would be hard pressed to find a good selection of SG products at any these stores. Most of the time you will find SG artists that associated with some type of nationally known SG entity. We are only talking about a select few artists that are involved the big box sales.
    Discussing big box stores will bring up the regional chain of Christian bookstores and local independent bookstores. These local stores feel the impact of mutiple night concert events because they cannot match the prices of the latest products on the market from the local table sales. Many fringe customers will wait until the mutiple night concert event to do their product shopping.
    Just wondering how much good do we do discussing all this business in full view.

  3. The reason for the table sales mentality is simple: Artists make lots of money on the spot. They purchase CDs from the record companies for somewhere in the range of $4 to $6 and sell them immediately for $15 — a huge and immediate profit. A CD sold in a retail store has money split between the store, (maybe a chain, if the retailer is part of a chain), the distributor, the record company, the artist, the producer, the writers, and the manufacturers–and of all that, about half the retail price goes to the store, leaving about half to be split among the rest. Artist (and record company) income from a retail store sale may come six months or more after the sale.
    The artist, with no investment in the production, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, etc. is putting money in their pocket immediately, having only to pay for the CDs (and even that is usually on a 30 or 60 day term).

  4. To be quite honest about it, table sales is what keeps most groups going. When love offering concerts have people barely giving $5 a head, or people bellyaching about paying $10 for a ticket, it is table sales that makes up the difference.

  5. So how do other genres handle this problem?

  6. Just sell more products at the tables.

  7. If the artist doesn’t do exactly what the record label wants them to do, then the record label won’t push the product and you will not see it in the stores. Therefore the artist must depend on table sales, especially if they want recording independence.

  8. Daniel (Britt), I can’t think of another genre whose biggest artists rely on table sales to this extent.

  9. To Phil above:
    Artists don’t set concert ticket prices. The promoter does. So if the promoter sets the tickets at $10 and doesn’t make enough to cover the cost of the group (by selling the tickets), the promoter still has to pay that artist his money money. I speak from experience from when my brother had Anthony Burger. Ticket prices don’t have anything to do with how much an artist makes.

  10. And…the table projects are some of the best the group has to offer. Take Mercy’s Mark’s two table projects–Southern Selections 1 & 2. They aren’t as slick as their two label releases, but really good. When you take the label’s preferenes out of the mix, you get some great performances. I’d hate to see that end. I guess this is unique to sg, but I ike it and it does pay the bills.

  11. You have a point, Ron. I thought about this some during the conference at Crossroads. Because I’ve often heard the complaint from artists that record companies dictate what you record and, in their opinion, stifle the artist’s own creativity (which is probably what attracted the record deal in the first place).

    How often has one heard the complaint that “I liked them better before they ‘made it big’ and were signed? They were producing better, more original creativity on their custom/table projects.”

    HOWEVER, I tend to agree with how the record companies think, too. IF you have an artist who really is a creative genius and innovative with his music, then the record company probably is smart enough to let that artist run their own show. Realistically, though, how many artists are good talents, so-so at creativity, but still need a bit of seasoned help from the record company with whom they are signed? I think this may be the case for the majority.

    So, just as remixes are popular, I’d like to see both angles and, from a fan’s standpoint, choose for myself: “do I like the record company version of the artist or the artist’s version of the artist?”

    For the sake of good business, you’d probably have to side with the record company.

    For the sake of variety and possibly a surprise-success, you’d look forward to see what the artist can do on their own.

    Risk is risky which is why we don’t see more of it.