Coulton on self-publishing

After a recent Planet Money podcast, Jonathan Coulton has joined the ranks of musicians speaking out about self-publishing. Coulton has built a name for himself over the last few years through internet distribution, appealing to “nerd subcultures” with well-written songs about robots, zombies, and programming. His songs have been featured at the end of Portal and Portal 2, and his song “Code Monkey” went viral after appearing on Slashdot. All of his work is available for download on his website, and everything is released under the Creative Commons license. So most of his loyal fanbase recognized his talent but was left wondering if he was actually making money off of his songs.

The answer is yes, to the tune of $500,000 last year for “Code Monkey.”

And after being likened to the fluke success of the Snuggie, Coulton is talking about why his business model works.

Here are some things I do differently from some other artists: I own all my music 100%, which means I have complete control over how I sell it (or not). I can give it away, I can bundle it on a USB key or in a zip file, I can allow people to make and post music videos, and I don’t have to deal with lawyers or labels to do any of that. I also get all the profits. […] I communicate directly with fans as often as I can without letting it become my full-time job. I’ve never made a music video. I have extremely low overhead. Most of my sales are digital, which means there are almost no distribution costs. I have never spent any money on marketing and rely completely on blogs, podcasts and social networks to spread the word. I tour solo with an acoustic guitar (used to anyway), and I only play in cities where I have already ascertained there is going to be an audience. I record by myself at home (again, used to!) using equipment that is not very expensive, and that I don’t know how to use very well.
My business model is designed especially for me, by me, and it constantly changes and evolves.