CD Baby vs Zimbalam: Who’s The Best?

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Over the last few days, I’ve been blogging advice to bands and musicians wanting to get their music up for sale online from why self-release is great to ensuring your product is good enough. Today I will be looking at who to submit your music to in order to get in up for sale on the major retailers such as iTunes and Amazon. There are plenty of companies out there that do this such as TuneCore and ReverbNation, but today I want to compare arguably the two biggest players in this field, CD Baby and Zimbalam.

I have used both of these companies recently to release material, CD Baby for my band’s music and Zimbalam for my piano album ‘Regression Play’. Before we get on to comparing the cold hard facts, let’s take a look at each companies history.

CD Baby was founded in 1997 by Derek Sivers by him simply selling his own music and that of his friends online. Originally selling just CDs the company struck a deal with major digital retailers such as iTunes, Amazon and Napster in 2004, and so began their journey into digital distribution. In 2008 Discmakers bought the company and they have recently announced that they have now paid over $200 million to artists since the company began.

Zimbalam is a much newer company formed by major distributor Believe Digital in 2009. It’s headquarters are in Paris, but they also have other offices around Europe. Zimbalam does not do CD distribution, but does distribute to a larger range of digital retailers instead.

So let’s compare each company side by side and see what the real difference is to the artist. (Figures are correct as of date published)

 CD Baby Zimbalam
Album Price $39 £29.99
Single Price $9.95 (1 track only) £19.99 (1-2 Tracks)
Annual Fee None £29.99 for Album, £19.99 for Single
CD Distribution Yes No
ISRC Codes  FREE FREE
UPC Barcode $20 for Album, $5 for Single FREE
Preorders No Yes

As you can see, when you compare the two companies, there isn’t that much between them. The only glaring difference is that Zimbalam charge a yearly fee which is taken out of your sales revenue. So as a user of both of these companies, let me tell you what I think the key differences are between these companies.

The sign up process for each company is very straight forward and the customer service is fantastic in both cases. Both companies distribute to companies such as iTunes and Amazon very quickly. When it comes to a streaming service like Spotify however, Zimbalam beats CD Baby hands down. I submitted my band’s album to CD Baby in July this year and it didn’t appear on Spotify till mid October, weeks after the album’s release. Zimbalam on the other hand, were very quick and my album was available online in just 4 weeks.

Zimbalam’s range of online partners is also far more impressive than CD Baby’s including stores such as HMV, Tesco and Play.com – CD Baby on the other hand distribute only to the basic stores plus a few others I’ve never heard of. That said, a few months on, I’m still waiting for my piano album to appear on HMV, Tesco and Play.com’s website!

Unlike Zimbalam, CD Baby do offer CD distribution of which you can set the price. Once you send your 5 copies over to their warehouse in America, they will make it available for sale on their own website, Amazon.com and a number of independent record stores through their physical distribution partner Super D. All of this is included in their $39 set up fee so if you have CDs to sell as well, going with CD Baby is a great option.

I also have to say that even though Zimbalam’s sales reporting is in much more detail than CD Baby, I somehow prefer the ease of use of the CD Baby accounting section. Both offer payment into PayPal accounts which I generally prefer and is very convenient.

There are a number of features that both companies offer in addition to their distribution. You will get an artist page with both companies on their website with CD Baby’s looking much better and both include widgets but the functionality of these could be improved. Zimbalam also offers a mailing list function allowing you to collect fan e-mail addresses and send out e-mails – it’s not exactly easy to use and there are better free systems out there, but it’s a nice touch. One thing I do like is that Zimbalam offer an iPhone app which is a much easier way of checking the balance of your account and looking up sales reporting.

In summary, it’s difficult to choose between these two companies as what they offer is fairly similar. If I had to choose one however, it would probably be CD Baby as their distribution of CDs is invaluable plus their system is much easier to use. However, when picking a company, it really is down to you and what you want.

One more thing, before any CD Baby employees who read this start to feel a bit smug and engage in much back-slapping as I’m sure the reaction will be to my small-time blog, I have compiled a list of things that CD Baby really should improve on to ensure they are the company to beat.

  1. Include distribution to many more digital partners! Include HMV, Tesco, Play.com etc…
  2. Distribute to Spotify MUCH quicker!
  3. Improve the Facebook App to include Events, Wall posts and offering a free track in exchange for a ‘like’
  4. Create an iPhone/Android app!
  5. Offer up to 2 tracks as part of the ‘Single’ package
  6. Allow Preorders like Zimbalam does!
  7. Improve the Artist page to allow inclusion of embedded videos

To find out more, visit the websites of CD Baby and Zimbalam.

Have you use either of these companies? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

4 thoughts on “CD Baby vs Zimbalam: Who’s The Best?

  1. Hi Matt,

    Great comparison 😉

    But Zimbalam does NOT take an Annual Fee.
    They charge a Setup Fee as you described and a Setdown Fee, if you want to take down your music.
    Till now they always paid around 2 weeks after demanding the payment as they say on their website.
    I’m satisfied with ZImbalam and their Sales Tracking Tool is really handy and very useful.
    CD Baby is nice to sell your physical CD’s

    greets
    Martin

    Like

    1. Hi Martin,

      Got to have to disagree with you there. I released an album with Zimbalam in August 2011, in August 2012, they took an ‘Annual Fee’ charge of £24.98 off of my account balance, so it would appear that they do charge an annual fee.

      I’m thinking of switching to CD Baby as in my experience, the sales and royalty data is updated far more frequently than Zimbalam.

      Like

  2. Hi Matt,

    I have been enjoying looking through your website etc. : )

    The Beatbox Bugs are based in Ipswich … so not far from you I think

    Your comparison of CD Baby and Zimbalam is very helpful
    but can you tell me what they did with your royalties and publishing rights ?

    Let’s say some big shot producer used one of your piano tracks
    in his movie / tv show / advertisement would they want to have a piece of that ???

    With all best wishes for 2014 …

    yours

    Doug

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have also used both services, and they both have pluses and minuses. The big quirk about Zimbalam (based on a lot of customer feedback I have Read) is their annual fee, and how it apparently does confuse all but the more informed customers on whether or not it exists. While I have cleared many a payment through CD Baby Zimbalam has yet to send me a single one in the two years I have been with them due to the fact that my yearly payment comes out of my sales revenue. Not entirely their fault (I should promote my one album I have there more aggressively so as to make more money) especially since they have promoted my works in corners of the world I would not have dreamed of through their distribution partners. Their initial set up fee is very affordable compared to CD Baby but that annual fee is another thing altogether. I have been with CD Baby since it began so I will always be a loyal user (that is until the very corporate Disc Makers run it into the ground).

    Liked by 1 person

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