Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.
Why would anyone buy a CD in 2020? Let me count the ways:
- Getting stuff in the mail is fun
- Superior sound quality
- The artwork, lyrics, and liner notes
- It has value as a collectible, especially when autographed
- To support the artist!
It’s a pretty simple idea: you offer a CD for free. The buyer (air quotes) just has to cover the shipping & handling.
Throwing “handling” in there allows some wiggle room on your pricing. $7 is typical, which is enough to cover all your expenses, including the actual CD!
I opted for $5, which is much closer to my actual cost. That way nobody can argue “but it doesn’t cost $7 to ship a CD!”
I can already hear your objection: “You said you SOLD 1000 CDs!”
To that I say three things:
- Money exchanged hands and goods were shipped. Sounds like a sale to me.
- If I had framed the same transaction as a $5 CD with free shipping, you’d have no problem calling it a sale.
- The majority of the 1000 were actually genuine sales beyond the free CD, netting me $3540.
How did I make money on a break-even transaction?
- An order bump
- An upsell
- If the upsell is refused, a downsell
Here’s how it works…
My Free CD Funnel
The offer page is essentially a landing page, with the top navigation removed so they won’t roam off (click to enlarge):
Once you enter your shipping info and click on “GET THE CD” you’re presented with an order bump for a $2 sticker:
Then you click “LET’S DO THIS” and you’re done, right? Not so fast!
The upsell is the remainder of my physical discography for half off, plus a couple other bonuses. That’s 5 more CDs for $30 — a pretty good deal, if I do say so myself!
The upsell used to include another two CDs for $40, but I’ve run out, and I’m about to run out of a third. My garage never looked so spacious!
If the upsell is accepted, the funnel ends. If not, you’re presented with the downsell:
The downsell is for another CD, the spiritual twin of the free CD, for half price plus free shipping.
The Sound was actually the free CD up until a couple weeks ago when I got down to the last box, and swapped in The Thought Chapter.
I should add that these really are two of my best albums, perhaps my two best. I’m proud of both and genuinely excited for potential fans to hear them. Anything less wouldn’t be worth the effort.
In other words, this isn’t just some thinly disguised attempt to liquidate old inventory.
My Free CD Funnel Results
To give you an idea of the ratio of free to paid, here’s last weekend’s orders:
Here are totals across the entire 10 weeks:
Since The Sound and The Thought Chapter were alternately free and paid at different points in time, their cumulative sales numbers are ambiguous. I added the order bump when I switched the free CD, which is why the sticker count is disproportionately low.
The chief moneymaker is the “All CDs” bundle, which started at $40 then dropped to $35 and then $30 as CDs went out of print. Bundle sales account for over $3K and nearly 600 CDs sold.
Here’s the money shot, literally (you can click to enlarge any of these):
The shipping & handling charges cover all my other costs including transaction fees, labels, mailers, and the add-on goodies I’ll detail later — leaving $3540 profit.
Here’s a report on just the upsells:
That $3540 profit doesn’t factor in the cost of making the CDs in the first place, which is lost to the winds of time, or $1235 in Facebook ads. I’m currently spending $30 a day.
I could write an entire article on how I promoted the offer, and I will if you twist my arm [UPDATE: I did! Read it here]. For now, I’ll just share the most successful video ad, which has so much social proof in the comments that I can’t get newer, objectively better ads to beat it.
That’s right, even though I’m giving away a different CD than the one mentioned in the video, it still beats out my other ads.
The $3540 figure also doesn’t include the cost to build my website from scratch, which brings me to…
My Free CD Funnel Tech Stack
I’m not gonna lie. Setting this up was a lot of work! Eight days solid, to be exact. The previous iteration of my site was little more than a single-page brochure, so I had to start from scratch.
Granted, I now have a full-fledged store in addition to the offer. It’s really three offers based on shipping costs: one for the US, one for Canada, and another for rest of world.
The best part? The WooCommerce iOS app emits a tasteless but satisfying “cha-ching!” every time an order comes in. It’s about twice as loud as it needs to be and scares the crap out of me on a regular basis, but I can’t bring myself to turn it off.
Next up is Elementor, a page builder that is way easier to use than anything I’ve tried before, including Divi and Uncode. It’s $49 per year, or $99 for three sites. I got the three site license and started off by giving Passive Promotion a facelift. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice! Eventually I’ll get around to rebuilding my mastering site.
The linchpin of the operation is FunnelKit, which is responsible for the landing/checkout page, upsell, downsell, order bump, and even the abandoned cart emails. You can piece together just the elements you need, but I opted for the full bundle at $299 per year.
Contrast that with ClickFunnels, which is $97 per month ($1164 per year) last I checked.
I need to give a shoutout to FunnelKit support. Their team in India is incredibly responsive and goes way beyond the call of duty. I’d email with an issue at night, and wake up to find a half dozen test orders and an email full of screenshots detailing a custom-coded solution.
Two FunnelKit highlights put the cherry on top:
- The checkout form uses the Google Maps API to autocomplete your address, which leaves little room for typos.
- Apple Pay automatically pops up as an option if available. Classy!
My old web host was giving me all sorts of problems. After three exasperating calls to support, I gave up and switched to SiteGround, and couldn’t be happier! I’m paying less than half of what I was paying before, but the big win is, again, their support. Put in a ticket and 15 minutes later you get a thoughtful response with a clear solution.
SiteGround offers a bunch of WordPress-specific perks like server-based caching and automatic daily site backups.
Last but not least, I picked up a Rollo thermal printer, which uses 4 x 6 labels. You never need to buy ink refills because it doesn’t use ink. Love it!
A “Dream Come True” Experience
As you might guess, packing up these orders takes a lot of time. But that’s kind of the point. I want to make buyers feel special by exceeding their expectations.
After autographing the free CD, I write a note by hand, and include a sticker. If they didn’t opt for the 4″ silkscreened sticker order bump, I throw in an inferior-but-still-awesome 3″ circular sticker.
“All CDs” bundles currently include a bumper sticker and are sealed with branded packing tape, which was understandably mistaken for branded toilet paper on social media.
The bumper stickers were $19 and the packing tape was $29, both Sticker Mule specials. I highly suggest getting on their email list to take advantage of their weekly specials, which are generally in the 80% off range.
“Where money goes attention flows.”
My hope is that after shelling out their hard-earned cash and getting back more than they expected in return, buyers will give my music a fighting chance.
The Future of My Free CD Funnel
I’ve gained nearly 500 new customers since the beginning of May. How many of those customers are now fans remains to be seen.
I’ll soon put it to the test, as I just put in a pair of 1000 CD orders to Disc Makers for my last two albums. I never thought they’d see a physical release, but then again, I never thought I’d reach this many potential CD buyers.
In the meantime, I’ll keep the offer going for another 100 CDs or so, or until Facebook stops finding me buyers at a reasonable cost.
UPDATE: Be sure to read my follow-up article: How I Promoted My Free CD Offer
What do you think? Is this something you’d try? Throw your questions at me in the comments!
Photo by John Lee