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[whitespace] Blink 182 How Old Are They? The guys in Blink 182 know that there's old money in new music.

Photograph by Steve Shea

Sex, Drugs and Paraphernalia

The punk entrepreneurs in Blink 182 have turned an indie website--Loserkids.com--into an Internet cash cow

By Gina Arnold

THE SAN DIEGO-BASED trio Blink 182 scored big hits on alternative radio and MTV with its last two CDs: Dude Ranch and Enema of the State. The band writes lightweight punk-pop songs that often discuss topics dear to the hearts of white suburban boys: the bitchiness of girls, the heartbreak of adolescence and so on.

Musically, Blink 182 is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the Bay Area band Green Day. But one thing that separates the group from many others of its nuevo-punk-rock brethren is its business savvy. Far from being your ordinary spike-haired, bad-tattooed, sex-obsessed puds, the members of Blink 182 are entrepreneurs.

With their new website, Loserkids.com, they've stretched the boundaries of what guys in bands can do with the power inherent in a popular band's name. Used to be the magic words "I'm in ------ [fill in the blank]" could at least get guys laid. Now it looks like they will get them paid as well.

Blink's single--"What Age Am I?"--is doing quite well on the charts, boosted, of course, by the band's current U.S. tour. But that's not all. While other artists like Chris Cornell and Alanis Morissette are using the new MP3 technology to allow fans to download their songs and various other artists scramble to find ways to bend the Internet to their musical will, Blink 182 has opened up a more conventional online store at Loserkids.com, which debuted on June 15.

Blink 182 likes to play up the naughty/stupid element of punk, appearing nearly nude in a recent video and onstage, and using the services of a porn star on the cover of their LP, but clearly its members--Mark Hoppus, Tom Delonge and Travis Barker--are far from stupid. Loserkids.com is a retail outlet designed, conceived and funded by Mark and Tom and run by a friend of theirs named Dylan Anderson. At the site, consumers can buy Blink stuff, as well as numerous related products, ranging from CDs by other bands to clothing from different designers, skateboard trucks, wheels, bearings and accessories--and even M.A.C. makeup.

ACCORDING TO ANDERSON, the site is modeled not on CDNow.com or mail-order record-label sites like LookoutRecords.com, but on a more conventional skateboard or surfing shop. Loserkids.com provides such products to kids who might live in towns where there isn't already such an outlet.

"Right now, we've got hard goods and soft goods, and we're branching off in other areas into all the things that you could get at a skate shop," Anderson explains.

The reasoning behind Loserkids.com is very sound. In fact, most bands make almost as much money on tour merch--T-shirts and other items with their logos on them--as they do from their concert fees. It is estimated, for example, that at Bruce Springsteen's 15-night stand in New Jersey, T-shirt sales will top $6 million, of which he will receive 80 percent of the gross.

Springsteen will also profit on ticket sales, but bands of lower stature see far less of the so-called guarantee money in profit, since it goes toward keeping the band on the road. Indeed, the whole point of touring is not so much to make money or entertain the fans as to publicize a band and generate record sales. If a band can find a way to do that without touring, well and good.

Currently, says Anderson, Loserkids.com is getting about 2 million hits a day, which loosely translates into the more lowly figure of about 60 purchases per day. But he adds that the site has been growing daily. "It sort of depends what's up with Blink, whether they're touring, whether they're mentioned on MTV that day, or whatever."

To date, Loserkids.com hasn't had to do much marketing of itself, other than handing out stickers with its URL logo on it at the Blink 182 booth on the Warped tour. Anderson says Loserkids.com has no plans to start a Loserkids line of clothing: instead, it uses already established vendors like Porn Star, Birdhouse, Billabong and Serial Killer. But it does plan to expand its catalog soon to include snow boards.

In fact, despite the initial band connection, Loserkids.com has little to do with music, and Anderson says the most popular item on the site is clothes. The music that can be ordered through the site is a short list of Blink-like bands: the Offspring, Bad Religion, Beastie Boys, 311--bands calculated, says Anderson, "to appeal to our demographic."

Eventually the music list will expand to include thousands of titles. But, he adds, "we don't put anything up here that we're not personally stoked on."

I asked him if he thought other bands would start doing similar sites, and he shrugged. "They'd probably like to get into it, but it's hard without having contacts with the vendors. I worked at a bunch of snow-boarding shops in Utah, so I already had a relationship with the merchants; then Artist Direct hooked us up to the Internet stuff."

The band members have input too. According to Anderson, they are in daily contact with him, the site and its vendors. Loserkids, Anderson adds, is located in space: he lives in San Diego, the Internet site is out of L.A., and its warehouses are in Florida. It has a relatively low overhead for a new business, because nothing has to be pre-ordered.

ALL THESE THINGS make it a pretty great start-up for a bunch of 22-year-olds, but what's really clever about Loserkids.com is its savvy understanding of the power of endorsements. Like all popular bands, Blink 182 has a built-in fan base, and it's using the love that kids have of the group to sell other people's products. Ideally, by attaching its seal of approval, it can "coolify" whatever product it puts up on its site.

Is the band, then, creating a Blink 182 aesthetic? Possibly, but judging by what's available on Loserkids.com, it's not a very deep one, more like a reflection of what's already cool in San Diego--the band's home locale. The members of Blink 182 haven't set themselves up as taste makers so much as merchandise providers. They're just retailers who've found another way to exploit the pocketbooks of their fans.

Indeed, Loserkids.com is not really a radical concept--it's just a clever one, capitalizing as it does on kids' devotion to their favorite bands. The band's approach certainly won't have the kind of dampening effect on the music industry that something like MP3, EMusic or Liquid Audio could have, if any of them manage to circumvent the record companies' control of music distribution.

Blink 182 is still working well inside the system, but its merch site made me think about some larger issues to do with the Internet--namely, its expansion of the methods of consumerism, a practice that hardly seems to need expanding.

After all, other than amateur porn and chat, almost every Internet site is a kind of retail outlet--yet another attempt to sell something to somebody. Loserkids.com doesn't provide a new service so much as it refines the age-old one of parting a fool--or at least an adolescent--from his money.

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From the September 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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