Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Epic Games Acquires Bandcamp

Ethan Diamond of Bandcamp:

Since our founding in 2008, we’ve been motivated by the pursuit of our mission, which is to help spread the healing power of music by building a community where artists thrive through the direct support of their fans. That simple idea has worked well, with payments to artists and labels closing in on $1 billion USD. And while over the years we’ve heard from other companies who wanted us to join them, we’ve always felt that doing so would only be exciting if they strongly believed in our mission, were aligned with our values, and not only wanted to see Bandcamp continue, but also wanted to provide the resources to bring a lot more benefit to the artists, labels, and fans who use the site. Epic ticks all those boxes. We share a vision of building the most open, artist-friendly ecosystem in the world, and together we’ll be able to create even more opportunities for artists to be compensated fairly for their work.

Bummed as I am that yet another independent business gets swallowed up by a much larger company — itself 40% owned by Tencent — this kind of makes sense to me from a business perspective. Take a look at this 2020 conversation between Twitter user “Productive Citizen” and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney:

Sweeney: Let’s math this. 500 reviewers * 40 hours per week / 100,000 apps = 12 minutes of review time per app.

So, A developer spends 1000’s of hours creating an app, and 100’s of hours updating it. Apple spends 12 minutes reviewing the update and takes 30%.

Productive Citizen: Tim, why not approach this with the model Bandcamp uses? They don’t do in-app purchases, but instead use the mobile browser to allow purchases. I think the fact that Bandcamp exists on iOS will ultimately hurt your case against Apple.

Sweeney: That’s a bad customer experience which Apple forces on developers in order to prevent fair competition for payment processing. It would be wrong to play along with that.

This was retweeted into my timeline as something that “aged badly”, but I think it speaks to a rationale for why Epic and Bandcamp make a good match. To avoid Apple’s 30% surcharge on in-app purchases of digital goods, the Bandcamp app is limited to being a front-end for streaming music and purchasing physical products. Digital files are “not available for purchase on this device”, according to the app, with no explanation for how someone may go about acquiring them.

This is not the only hurdle. Even if you figure out that you must visit the album page through Safari and complete your purchase there,1 you cannot add the songs to your Music library on an iPhone or iPad. Those shortcomings really are a crappy customer experience; they sure make the iTunes Store or Apple Music look more compelling for a user.

I can see why Epic would want a non-gaming angle for its antitrust arguments, and I can see why Bandcamp would want the lawyers afforded to a larger company. It cannot be the only reason for this acquisition, but I bet Epic’s disagreement with Apple and Google is a rationale for buying Bandcamp. A subsidiary like Bandcamp will help strengthen Epic’s case. But it also feels like a bummer for the artists whose output and livelihood is treated almost as an interchangeable commodity by these platforms. It is all just “content” to them.


  1. Which, by the way, Apple’s rules make needlessly cumbersome. While you can share an album page using the system-standard share sheet, the URL is treated as plain text, so no “Open in Safari” option in presented in the sheet. You must copy the URL and then paste it into Safari. A minor inconvenience, for sure, but one of those seemingly petty things done solely to appease App Review. ↩︎