Record Store Day was initially invented as a way to drive customers back into independent record shops, but has it lost its way? Lee Hammond’s been researching the issue and reports back below, but before you read on, known enemies of #RecordStoreDay, Spectres and Sonic Cathedral, yesterday released the video you can see above. It comes with these words…
“Spectres’ have shared the video for ‘Stealed Scene’ … it pokes fun at Record Store Day ambassador Dave Grohl as well as the raft of completely unnecessary reissues that will be on eBay by lunchtime on Saturday, or still gathering dust in the racks next April.”
Record Store Day (RSD) has come under fire this year (as it did from us last year too), with an increasing number of shops and small labels feeling the pinch created by its rules. So here I take a look at how the movement has changed over the years, and, having spoken to people from across the industry, I conclude that although there are many negative aspects to RSD, all is not completely lost.
For someone like myself who has collected records for a number of years and who worked in record shops for a long time, it’s been an incredible watching the turnaround in record shops fortunes of late. That said, though, it hasn’t all been exponential sales and mega-profits; well not for the shops at least. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and happily pour scorn on the day, but it does still have its good points – as I’ll get to later.
But we’ll start by looking at the negative aspects to RSD, in particular an issue that has caused the biggest uproar in recent times – the prices. There has been an obvious increase in the price of vinyl due to its popularity, yet how can a label justify the huge prices put on many of the items that are released just for this day, and at the same time how can shops justify all charging wildly different prices for the same item?
Having scoured price lists from previous years it appears some items can vary as much as £10 between shops. I understand that from a shops point of view this is a big day for them and they have to recoup their costs, which is something that I’ll come on to, but it would be nice to see a level playing field from the shops so that customers who queue up for hours on end are not being ripped off.
Added to this, the whole day seems to have been taken over by major labels, with smaller labels releasing less each year. Despite Record Store Day trying to quash this claim, it’s increasingly difficult to ignore the level of major label involvement. The recent retort from Sonic Cathedral and Howling Owl cited the difficult to abide by rules as being a particular issue.
This won’t solve the issue of price though; having scanned a list of this year’s releases I’ve seen prices reaching up to £18 for a 7”. This is ludicrous and the issue, which follows this, is that shops try to stock as many of these items as possible and are then stuck with stock which cannot be sold. Yes, it can be argued that this is the shops fault for not understanding their demographic, but at the same time, with the level of publicity that Record Store Day achieves each year, shops are intrinsically catering for other audiences on that day, audiences that precisely aren’t their demographic the other 364 days of the year.
It seems to me to be a vicious circle with shops having to take risks on high priced items in the hope that they can sell them – another separate problem borne out of the original pricing issue. However, it also comes back around to the release list itself and the overall quality of it. What the shops have noticed, and the public alike, is the increasing number of reissues that are being made available on that day.
Whilst this can sometimes be an excellent thing the quality of the aforementioned reissues over the originals, most of which are readily available anyway, is negligible. The fact that major labels are using the day as a vehicle to force pointless overpriced reissues on us, the customer, takes the excitement away from some of the more unique items. Take this year for instance, there is a beautiful heart shaped piece of vinyl with the track I Love You, Honeybee by Father John Misty on it. That is something worth buying, over yet another reissue of, say, a David Bowie record.
Don’t get me wrong – some of the reissues hold some credibility; if an album has never been pressed on vinyl then I can understand the sentiment behind it. Yet those types of reissues are very few and far between.
There are also a number of negative points surrounding the release list itself, particularly the sheer huge quantity of releases.
From a shops point of view, they’re encouraged to play as big a part as possible, and rightly so. But that too comes with its own problems. Having worked in shops for a number of years I can speak from first hand experience about the problems that most shops face on a day-to-day basis and which are only exacerbated around Record Store Day, with smaller shops being forced to raid the owner’s private bank and savings accounts and to defer rent payments, say, in order to be able to pay for stock.
This isn’t helped by the lack of releases on the days surrounding Record Store Day and which means that sales tend to dip both before and after the day itself, partly because labels don’t want the debut album by their newly signed artist to compete with the aforementioned David Bowie reissue, but also because pressing plants are working all hours churning those David Bowie reissue’s out, and as they’re more lucrative they have to stall none RSD releases, sometimes for, literally, months.
You’d imagine that larger shops face similar, but not as drastic, problems, but again, from first hand experience, I find that many of the larger shops are given preferential treatment by distributors. Regardless of their demographic they’re afforded larger quantities of a variety of items which in the past has then led to people turning their backs on smaller, independent shops in favour of larger ones because they were stocking something that they normally wouldn’t. These larger shops have often tended to be the shops charging the higher prices too. It’s honestly hard to comprehend the level of obvious favouritism that also plays quite a large part in the day.
There is also a further problem in that if something is delayed for whatever reason (the huge load placed upon pressing plants, say) shops can be left with that stock as it doesn’t match their normal market. Similarly, so many shops are left with stacks of stock, specifically ordered for the day, that doesn’t sell and this isn’t because it doesn’t suit their customer base, but because people cannot afford to buy a huge amount of records at inflated prices! The labels and distributors, of course, govern those prices and shops purely add on their meagre margins (in some cases) to cover their costs and to reap a small amount of profit.
It’s heartbreaking to hear that a lot of shops are shelling out upwards of £30,000 on stock for one day, yet they’re lucky to make little more than £1 – 2000 on that. Yes, it might be their busiest day of the year, but it is also the most costly, so when Record Store Day announces that shops have had a fantastic day etc., bear it in mind that they’ve probably made either no profit or a very small margin.
There’s also a further issue which stems from this and harks back to the rigorous rules, which all of the shops sign up to. Should the “first come first served” approach be swapped for one that rewards regular customers who come in throughout the year, say, not just for this one-day? Plus, Saturdays are not always convenient for most – doubly so if they have to queue up overnight to secure their sought after prize – is it fair that people who can do this get special privileges over those who can’t for whatever reason?
And why is it right that a shop should shun a customer who they would save records for on any other day of the year just on this one day of the year? Personally I do believe this is very unfair, I have queued up for hours on end at other shops because, first and foremost, I am a record collector. I’ve also experienced the other side of the coin, though – where I’ve been queuing behind people who’re buying records purely to list on eBay, Discogs etc.
Whilst it is rumoured that eBay are going to crack down on the sale of Record Store Day items this year, it will not stop anyone from using sites like Discogs to inflate prices.
As the ‘resale’ period for these items decreases in size, surely the ban on selling releases online for a week should be lifted too? That said, it isn’t the same in the US where shops are allowed to sell leftover stock the next day. So that, then, raises the question of why are the rules not the same on both sides of the pond?
The nature of Record Store Day of course is to get people back into shops, yet disallowing labels to sell directly to customers seems unfair when other distribution channels are becoming increasingly hard to source. This also raises the other question of what about those people who live in places where they don’t have an independent record shop?
Personally, I grew up in a town that didn’t have a record shop, I was forced to retreat to online means, relying upon the wonderful Norman Records and sourcing many records directly from labels. So taking this channel away from customers sees them incur further costs for records that they’d normally be able to buy like everyone else and surely the idea isn’t to disadvantage the consumer?
However, all that being said there have been some positives to emerge from the introduction of Record Store Day, noticeable especially back when it was first introduced and independent record shops were floundering. Now they’re not struggling quite so much and, indeed, they’re even seeing an upturn in their fortunes. The original premise of Record Store Day was great, and for a while it was meeting the needs of everybody. Yet it has become somewhat complacent, and that complacency has allowed these problems to creep in. Had you asked me the question after the first couple of years as to whether RSD was good or bad for the industry I’d have been the first to praise it, but now it seems to be drastically losing its way. It’s not all Record Store Days fault; the fact that the major labels have jumped on the bandwagon hasn’t helped the matter.
This has led to some sectors of the industry being neglected, for a long time the vinyl industry was held up by the electronic and dance music genres. If you look through the copious amounts of releases this year you’d be hard pushed to find twenty releases that fit into these genres. Similarly, just recently a friend of mine was complaining that it is now taking 18 weeks to get their latest single pressed because of backlogs caused by Record Store Day.
Yet the most important thing is that whilst the day has many misgivings, whether it be the poor quality rules or the huge number of superfluous releases, it has succeeded in its most important aim – to keep Independent Record Shops alive; the fact that it pushes them close to the point of bankruptcy each year isn’t all that helpful, but it does, paradoxically, help them survive.
From talking to friends and colleagues from around the industry, they echo my thoughts that whilst Record Store Day was a great idea originally, it has severely lost its focus. They did offer up some thoughts and suggestions that I believe do quite aptly apply across the board.
Firstly, why not split the day down – it currently happens twice a year (although the Black Friday one hasn’t really taken off). Turn it into four days across the year to spread the burden. It could be a logistical nightmare or it could work perfectly.
This breaking down of the day would need to be accompanied by a capping of the release list too, which would obviously allow shops to spread the burden rather than throwing everything at it on one day.
Cut down the number of reissues or tighten the rules around the releasing of them; as I mentioned before, good releases are often overlooked because of reissues. This also relates to capping the size of the list, as mentioned in my previous point.
A re-thinking of the rules is also essential. For example, yes, I understand that releases should be sold on a first come first served basis, but shops’ being forced to alienate customers who they rely on all year is not fair or sensible.
It isn’t all Record Store Day’s fault of course, things just seem to have gotten out of hand very quickly. So rather than blaming them at least give them the opportunity to re-appraise it themselves.