Kunaki is an “on-demand” CD and DVD manufacturing service accessed solely through the web. From the Kunaki FAQ:
You design and configure your product (case, disc, inserts, cover art, contents) with our publishing software. The software renders a precise 3-D replica of your product and lets you modify and review different possibilities. The software compiles your product’s content, packaging, art-work into a single digital file and uploads it directly to our facility. Then a seamless, automated system accepts orders; manufactures, prints, assembles, packages, and ships your product in minutes.
Kunaki is mainly of interest to record labels and independent artists interested in bypassing the traditional CD manufacturing process to produce small quantities (i.e. less than 100 copies) at an extremely affordable rate with no up-front investment. This is a intriguing alternative for anyone working in a niche market where typical CD sales have slipped below industry-standard minimum orders of 500 or 1,000 units. These days you can get deals on runs as low as 300 (or maybe less) but you’re still stuck with boxes of CDs and increasingly tight margins as you order less and less. This is due to the unavoidable costs inherent in the process: setup fees, creation of the master disc, etc. With Kunaki there are no minimums and no setup fees–just a flat rate of USD$1.75 or less (plus shipping) for every CD or DVD no matter how many are ordered. This is awesome if you only want a handful of CDs instead of hundreds or thousands!
As the FAQ notes, “Kunaki is not for everyone.” Here are some of the drawbacks: Kunaki products are not as good as what you will find in stores. In terms of packaging, Kunaki products arrive in standard shrink-wrapped jewel (or DVD) cases. There are no options in terms of artwork: all you have to work with is a front cover, inside panel, back tray, and a “full face” disc print. The printing quality is decent for the most part (though nowhere near as sharp as store-bought CDs) but there are some issues with the discs themselves–dark tones are strongly emphasized and the colour schema is sometimes warped in strange ways. This can be alleviated by sticking to a simple CD face design based on bright colours and stark simple shapes. One other downside is the use of opaque CD trays; transparent trays are fairly standard in the industry but you won’t be able to use them with Kunaki.
The discs themselves, although silver-bottomed (not gold or some other colour), are duplicated rather than replicated. Despite this, the quality of the physical media Kunaki produces far exceeds what you will get from a standard consumer-grade CD burner (i.e. a “CD-R” in the parlance of the late 1990s). As the Kunaki FAQ mentions, duplication technology has improved considerably in the last few years–they even claim that their high-quality duplication process is every bit as good as standard replication. Whether this is factually correct is anyone’s guess–I have not seen any credible studies examining the issue one way or another. Still, it is inaccurate to call Kunaki-manufactured media “CD-Rs” as some people do. They are not the same thing you get out of your CD burner at home. I have heard no reports of disc rot or other kinds of data decay over time and, based on my personal experience, perhaps 1 CD in every 300 is a dud. Such a failure rate is not much higher than what you find with traditional glass-mastered CDs. In any case, the CD-R stigma is largely superstitious in nature so I wouldn’t worry about it.
Another important caveat: don’t expect much in the way of customer service. From the FAQ: “Kunaki operates more like a machine than a business.” Kunaki is designed with automation in mind–they state, quite clearly, that they have no interest in wasting time with prospective clients who can’t read the information on their web site. Whereas most businesses would be quite happy to address concerns via phone or email, the shadowy operators of Kunaki have isolated themselves from the outside world. If you take the time to read the information on their site you shouldn’t have any problems though.
The only other drawback worth mentioning is that Kunaki only ships to a select list of (mostly developed) nation. Notably absent from their list of acceptable destinations are Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malaysia, Nepal, Peru, Russia, South Africa, and Ukraine (as of early 2011). If you are doing a lot of business within any of these nations then Kunaki is not for you.
Despite these limitations there are a few ways in which the Kunaki service might be useful.
First of all, Kunaki offers netlabels and independent artists an easy way to manufacture and distribute physical copies of releases already available for free download. I speak from experience when I say that demand for CD versions of free netlabel releases is not high–but nor is it zero. There are still some people that like to have something they can hold in their hands. Kunaki empowers netlabels and independent artists to provide physical media without much effort or expense. Still, it is important to reflect on whether that effort is worth it or not. To throw some numbers out there, 10,000 free downloads might–if you are lucky–yield anywhere from one to five CD sales online (and this average is dropping with each passing year as more and more people abandon physical media entirely). That being said, selling those same CDs in person can lead to much better results if you are willing to do the work. One cool thing about Kunaki is that you can drop ship CDs to your upcoming gigs so you can have some merchandise on hand to sell or give away.
The second use for Kunaki might not be as obvious. Despite the fact that music fans are turning away from physical media there is still some prestige associated with a hard copy. Not only that, but many professionals working with music continue to assign a certain cachet to CD releases. For this reason, Kunaki is a great promotional tool for anyone looking to catch the eye of promoters, label owners, DJs, and other people working in the music business. Print up some CDs and ship them out by snail mail with a nicely designed press kit if you are looking for gigs or a “record deal” (if such a thing still exists). Hand out copies of your CD at gigs, give them to DJs wherever you travel, and make up a few for family and friends. Think of your CD as a business card.
Anyhow, that’s the pitch. If you would like a brief overview of the process (with a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way), here’s how you make a CD with Kunaki using a PC:
- Burn a master CD. You need to finish this step before moving on. I suggest adding a few extras like CD text with proper track titles. Remember: whatever you burn is exactly what will end up on your final product so be sure to do it properly!
- Download and run the Kunaki software here. This lightweight program compiles the data necessary to launch a “product” (a CD or DVD with packaging). Please note: this software only works on Windows and you will need an active Internet connection.
- Enter data into the “product properties” screen by clicking the green button in the top right corner. This information is presented on the Kunaki product page (example here; link may expire without warning) if you use their optional “publish at no cost to you” service. Write as much or as little as you like as long as you fill the two required fields (title and label). I like to keep things neat so I always enter performer, genre, track titles, etc. Of course, none of this matters if you don’t make the release publicly available for sale through their interface. Remember: you cannot edit anything after publishing your product so be sure your information is correct!
- Set album artwork on the next screen. Kunaki artwork specs are available here (official) or here (Ektoplazm version with some helpful tips from experience). Be sure to have all your artwork ready before you publish.
- Choose your CD drive letter and compile the product. I recommend closing all software except for the Kunaki application but this might be paranoid of me.
- Verify your product by launching it and extracting the contents to a new folder. Listen to the entire release or use EAC (or equivalent software) to perform a bit-by-bit comparison with the original WAVs (hit CTRL-W or navigate to the Tools menu and select Compare WAVs).
- Launch your product! You will need an account at this stage if you haven’t already published with Kunaki but this process is self-explanatory.
- That should be it! Now you can order your CD or offer it for sale through the Kunaki interface. Set a reasonable price and inform your customers of the difference between store-bought CDs and Kunaki products–it’s only fair!
So there you have it! If you make use of the service please feel welcome to share your experience in the comments. Likewise, I might be able to help if you have any questions not covered by the Kunaki FAQ. Finally, if you would like to see the product gallery in action, here is the Ektoplazm discography on Kunaki, while supplies last (as titles are deleted from the database after 180 days without a sale).