The Fortnite Company Bought Bandcamp; Should Indie Artists Be Concerned?

todayMarch 11, 2022 50

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By Jared Dudley
Music Journalist

On Wednesday, March 2nd, video game and music fans alike joined together in a collective double-take at the news of video game behemoth Epic Games’ purchase of indie music storefront, Bandcamp. Bandcamp, beloved for its equitable share of profits given to music artists and labels, prided itself on being a small, independent storefront for small, independent musicians. Since its founding in 2008, this image of acting as an alternate, more ethical method of buying music has been the nucleus of Bandcamp’s branding.

Without a doubt, the service has lived up to this lofty goal. The money artists receive from music and merchandise sales on Bandcamp are significantly higher than the revenue they receive from any competing streaming service. While Epic Games’ acquisition of Bandcamp will certainly not bring an end to the company’s trademark revenue share, at least not any time soon, it does signal the progression of a troubling trend across all forms of digital media.

For years, fans of video games have been no stranger to corporate consolidation. Media industries have always been run predominantly by a small handful of corporations, but the practice of game development studios and publishers being purchased by a larger entity has recently made headlines that have caught the attention of people with only a tangential interest in the current business trends of video games. With Bandcamp, the consolidation streak has now crossed media boundaries.

The purchase of Bandcamp is also significant because the company was acquired by Epic Games which, despite the name, has an executive board with stated intentions to become an all-encompassing media enterprise.

In 2017, Epic became known by most as “The Fortnite Company” after the game’s battle royale mode was released and the game quickly rose to an unprecedented level of popularity. Since then, the company has pivoted to turning Fortnite into an evolving online platform instead of just a game where 100 players shoot each other on an island. They began hosting special in-game events based off real-life experiences, most notably concert performances by popular artists like Travis Scott and Ariana Grande.

With the success of these events, Epic has had an increased interest in branching out into hosting content through another form of media. The purchase of Bandcamp looks to be their first major step.

While Bandcamp CEO, Ethan Diamond, announced the deal on social media with unbridled optimism, stating he was happy to be joining a company that he saw as “champions for a fair and open internet,” the statement was not received well by the broad fanbase of independent music. Many saw it as a betrayal to the values the company was founded on and has upheld despite the music industry’s trend towards paying for music via a monthly subscription.

One user on Twitter even pointed out the irony of a quote Bandcamp displays on their website praising the company for not selling out to a media conglomerate.

I keep waiting for Bandcamp to implode due to some greedy exec’s mishandling or sell out to some media conglomerate and completely change like every other seemingly progressive business venue I’ve ever liked on the internet and instead they keep being awesome.

A large part of the appeal of Bandcamp was the store being privately owned, meaning it was not on the stock market nor beholden to the whims of executives whose only interest was to keep majority shareholders happy. The focus has always been on creating a fair marketplace for musicians and listeners. Epic now has the power to make the service more profitable, in turn leaving less money for the artists.

This worry is not unfounded either, due to Epic previously stirring up controversy with their own online marketplace, the Epic Games Store. In 2019, Epic was accused of leveraging the popularity of Fortnite, and the incredible fortune the company amassed, to secure deals to release computer versions of highly anticipated video games exclusively on their store. These moves were criticized for being an anti-consumer choice and garnered widespread backlash.

Bandcamp has always hosted exclusive music, but this has been at the discretion of the artist. Independent musicians flocked to the digital store because it was equitable, not because they signed an exclusivity agreement to the tune of millions of dollars. Deals like this would not be inherently bad, the artists would get paid and have their music exclusive to a great platform, but it would mean Epic having a greater influence on how the store is run.

Another concern pertains to the possibility of Bandcamp endeavoring in the NFT space. Epic has expressed interest in hosting blockchain games on their storefront, and if they decide to go all-in, Bandcamp may be forced to sell album NFTs.

Non-Fungible Tokens have been widely criticized for their part in a financial system that is a main contributor to climate change. In addition, online artists have had their works stolen, turned into NFTs, and sold on blockchain websites without their permission. Incorporating the blockchain onto Bandcamp would be seen as dubious to say the least, but the decision is now Epic’s to make.

Altogether, the acquisition gives reason for scrutiny, but it is far from a death knell for Bandcamp. Because company mergers of this size usually take over a year to finalize, we will not see the effects of new ownership for quite some time.

For now, Bandcamp remains the best place to buy and listen to music digitally. Hopefully, it stays that way.

Featured Image by Jared Dudley

Written by: ktsw899

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