February 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Merch Box: Music Subscription for Physical Objects

(This is a guest post from Brenna Ehlrich of MTV O Awards. People are subscribing to actual music objects through a brand-new startup called Merch Box and receiving stuff like this by mail. Brenna investigates. )

As Nemo came barreling through Brooklyn this past weekend, I hunkered down in my living room, ready to partake in one of life’s most intense joys: Opening a package.

After ripping through the tape — and the skin of my fingers — I tore off the top of the box to reveal a wondrous array of goodies: a selection of candy, fingerless gloves (perfect for the present chill), a coin purse shaped like a mixtape (for all my loose change!), a fortune-telling fish (to predict future romantic disappointments?), an old-school kitten Valentine (a Band-aid for said romantic disappointments?) and, best of all, three brand-new CDs by previously unknown bands. Score!

If you’re thinking said bounty is a care package and that I have the best Mom in the world, you’re sorely mistaken (Sorry, Mrs. Ehrlich). Nope, this amazing array of musical goodies comes courtesy of Merch Box.

Merch Box is a brand-new startup — reminiscent of beauty supply sampler Birchbox — that sends subscribers personalized boxes of tunes and merch each month (for $10/month).

Upon subscribing, users are sent a brief survey so that the company can get a bead on their tastes. Questions include, “What are three bands that you love?” “What size T-Shirt do you wear?”, “Do you have a vinyl player?” and “When is your Birthday and age?” From there, the Merch Box team assembles boxes of things users may like each month and delivers them to their doors.

Merch Box is the brainchild of Mike Frankel, whose other gigs including running MP3 blog FreeIndie.com and working on actor Adrian Grenier’s online concert series, Wreckroom.

“The whole concept was that when I was a kid I had stuff in my room,” Frankel says, referring to the posters, CDs and other paraphernalia littering your average young music fan’s bedroom. “I thought kids don’t have stuff anymore because everything is so digital. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to branch that old mindset I was in — where I used to have posters up on my walls and CDs on my desk and DVDs in the cabinet — into a new generation where everything is really digital.”

Merch Box initially launched on Black Friday of last year with Frankel sending out CDs donated by artists to a group of 200 subscribers. Since then, however, he has fleshed out the business, asking bands to donate digital files and album artwork and creating CDs himself, as well as including more eclectic merch. Currently, he has 1,000 subscribers, most of which, he says, he’s garnered through FreeIndie.com.

While the creation of the boxes is relatively low-impact — it takes Frankel around 30 seconds to put together a box with his two employees — the business has yet to turn a profit. Right now, all of the cash Frankel makes goes back into creating boxes. Still, making money doesn’t seem to be Frankel’s aim.

“We want to become a company that can actually break an artist,” he says, a goal that could be made manifest if his userbase continues to grow. Because, you see, Merch Box is a kind of tailored music subscription service — with an edge: the novelty factor of getting a monthly shipment of cool stuff that you can touch in addition to tunes.

Its closest proxy is probably Drip.fm, a curated digital service from Ghostly International that allows fans to subscribe to record labels in order to receive downloads and news on a regular basis. That service has seen some measure of success, according to its founders, by focusing on a specific group of music fans — a.k.a. diehards — rather than attacking music fans as a whole (ala Spotify).

Merch Box has the potential to grab that same group of die-hard fans. However, it distinguishes itself from other music services — and thus could avoid getting lost in the shuffle — by focusing on the tangible, a smart move in climate in which vinyl sales are pretty much constantly on the rise and musicians make the news for releasing music in innovative, IRL ways: see the Flaming Lips’ chocolate hearts and Jack White’s X-ray records.

What do you think? Would you shell out $10/month for customized merch and tunes?

See also:

Brenna Ehrlich is the senior writer for the MTV O Music Awards. She previously worked at Mashable and Heeb magazine, and is the co-founder of blog and bookStuff Hipsters Hate. She likes listening to songs on repeat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.hymes Tony Hymes

    This is a great idea. As people spend more and more time online, they are limited to increasing amounts of digital products. It is very refreshing to see something physical, and like Brenna said, opening a package is still “one of life’s intense joys.” The prior success of other monthly box delivery services, for food or beauty products, would naturally apply to music. What would be the ultimate coup would be to combine a merch box service with a subscription listening service, (like Spotify/Merch box for $15.99/month) where you fulfill both music needs at the same time, and unlike the current Spotify, when you stop paying or switch to a different service, you would actually have something to show for it with the merch in your house! (Infinitely cooler if the merch that comes to you is based on what you are actually listening to that month on Spotify!!)

  • Storm Johnson

    Why did you delete my comment about the Music Box?