Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hank's Relationship with Physical Discs...How it Happened

Hello all, and welcome to my first post at the DFTBA Records Blog.

Now it's no secret that I'm a big fan of clean technology, and one section of cleantech that I think is largely ignored is digitization. The ability to obviate the need for a physical thing is a very good thing for the environment. Streaming videos replacing DVDs, Kindle Books replacing books and, of course, MP3s replacing CDs.

So I was always very apprehensive about the idea of a physical CD. There were a lot of requests, and a good year before DFTBA Records was created, I honestly didn't believe that Nerdfighters, who are necessarily very comfortable with the online world, would have any significant desire for CDs.

But because John and I were going to be at some events, and John would be selling books and I didn't have anything to sell, I created an EP called "Several Songs from Hank Green's Pants" (I'd love to see one of those...if people still have them) that we sold at our keynote speech at a Library Conference in Michigan. I burned 20 of them myself and stuck them in jewel cases that I had lying around my house. John wouldn't let me price them at anything less than $15, and we sold all of them....very quickly.

Then, for our appearance at the Terminus Harry Potter Con, I had a heroic team of Kinkos professionals in Manhattan (I was there for a business meeting) print 100 copies of "Songs from Hank Green's Pants, Terminus Edition" in like 2 hours flat and we sold every single one of those. The songs on those albums were almost entirely ripped straight from youtube, with the only value added being me talking between songs (I think, my memory is a little fuzzy, which is kinda disturbing.)

So by the time the Tour de Nerdfighting rolled around, I felt fairly confident that people would buy physical CDs. I went into the studio, recorded beefier, awesomer versions of a six or so of my songs, put them on So Jokes along with some talking and some not-so-produced tracks. I printed up the cheapest CD I could find that didn't come from some back-alley printer; something I felt like would be high quality...something I could trust.

As I sat out front of the Library before the show in Plano Texas (the first show where I had the CDs) I was basically choking on fear. They hadn't been cheap, and I didn't want to be sitting there while John sold fistfulls of Paper Towns while everyone just sorta looked at my giant stack of obsolete plastic discs.

The first ten people walked by without giving them (or me) a second look, and probably the first person to ever buy a copy of So Jokes bought one because they felt sorry for me.

Of course, by the end of the tour, I'd sold all but 100 of the discs, much more than breaking even on the investment of buying the discs and recording the songs (a much bigger portion of the expense of the album, btw.)

So Jokes was a huge success, and it continues to sell in fairly good numbers. People have said so many nice things to me about the album that I have become very excited about my second studio release.

Of course, it's always been important to me to have my releases be environmentally friendly, luckily the company we print with (DiscMakers) has a ton of really great 100% recycled products (including the jacket that So Jokes is in.)

But nowadays, I'm much more excited about what the CD offers you, the buyer of my music. There is something about just having a physical CD that feels nice. Yeah, it's easier to play in your car stereo (for now) but there's also something about having a physical piece of a non-physical relationship.

But this time, I want to offer a lot more. As Alex said in a previous post, we want to offer you something really nice. I think So Jokes looks great (thanks largely to Sharkeye Jones) but my next release will be significantly more awesome (though, much to Alex's chagrin, it will not be in a jewel case...plastic is evil.) I think Taking Leave proved that you don't need a jewel case to have an impressive CD.

But it will offer a lot more than So Jokes did in terms of they physical experience. I hope you're as excited as I am.


  1. It seems weird now to think that nerdfighters wouldn't buy a Hank CD considering you managed to sell 500 John Green bobbleheads with little trouble :P

  2. I vote vinyl. why buy another digital medium?

  3. i bought hanks cd at the tour de nerdfighting stop in Lancaster pa and got it signed by hank. as soon as i heard about there being a cd from hank i had to have it. and i don't need jewl cases.

  4. Nerdylation has a point but why stop at vinyl? It should be recorded entirely on an Edison wax cylinder recorder.

    Everyone has a player for those, right?

  5. I really appreciate the work you put into these albums for us. I know it takes a lot of work, and I am grateful that you spend your time and money on these albums for nerdfighters like me. I hope your success continues, and I can't wait for another cd to come out. =]

  6. "..having a physical piece of a non-physical relationship."

    That is it, that is exactly it :) it's having that thing to hold onto that makes an internet link translate into the real world.

  7. 'having a physical piece of a non-physical relationship' YES!

  8. Hank, my roomies and I have a section of wall devoted to youtube (and a little bit of disney) in my hallway. The cardboard case to So Jokes is displayed proudly there as a "physical piece of a non-physical relationship".

  9. Has it really been proven that a physical release is less friendly for the environment than a digital one? The amount of energy needed to keep servers running is largely underestimated, I think.

    I still agree that it's great to have something physical to hold in your hands. Way better than some bytes on your hard disk.

  10. You can "have" something on your ipod or shuffle list, but you can't hold it. And you certainly can't hug it.

  11. @J.B. - Yep, it's been proven, several times actually. The amount of energy that goes into drilling the oil, shipping it around, turning it to palstic, shipping it around again, turning it into CDs, shipping it around again, turning those CDs into albums and then shipping them around again is also easy to underestimate.

    Digital albums consume anywhere from 50% to 30% of the energy consumed by physical ones. And those numbers will continue to go down as servers continue to become more and more efficient.

  12. I dislike Kindle. The entire idea. Real, printed books are so much better!

  13. I'm finding all this debate about the packaging of CDs really interesting. Sadly, I've not got any of the DFTBA releases in physical form - I ahve to pay for my own music, and because I live in the UK shipping prices mean that I have to buy them on iTunes. However, I'm trying to save up so I can get Hank's next release as a physical CD, because I do agree - it's so nice to have the booklet and the actual CD that you can hold in your hands (carefully!) and allt hat other great stuff =] When I'm able I like to buy CDs and just transfer the music to my iPod via Easy CD-DA Extractor. Even though I never really play CDs on a CD player (although I do have one somewhere) I like to own the actual CD, purely for the experience, as Alex said, of opening it and seeing the artwork, etc.
    So, my point is, yes - I'd love DFTBA to produce all their CDs in jewel cases. However, I understand that Hank wants his to be eco-friendly, but I'm pretty sure you can get jewel cases made out of recycled plastic. Also, perhaps when CDs are released people could have the option to buy a jewel case or a slip-in case, with the latter being a cheaper option? I'm not sure if that would work, but I'd like to know if and how that could work.

  14. I would like to echo, and acronymize everyone else's quotations: APPOAN-PR. I feel that entirely. I am a big have-it-physically person, and I go vinyl if it is an option. I understand the Kindle fascination, but it is something I would never do. Especially when I hear things like this.