Sunday 22 April 2012

Why Record Store Day Doesn’t Save Independent Music Stores

There’s a bigger hype about Record Store Day today than last year, it’s a growing event in the music calendar, but like Glastonbury, it’s lost the very thing that made it special.   If you want to make independent record stores truly accessible, then having to queue at four in the morning to have even a chance of getting hold of a record by your favourite band, at an exorbitant price, isn’t a selling point for it.

The nature of the event makes it an easy target for ebay profiteers.  At 7am this morning, there were copies of Morrissey’s Suedehead on sale for £70 on ebay, even before most shops had opened.   At 9am at Piccadilly Records in Manchester, there was a guy driving round directing people who were clearly in his employ as to what to get when they got in.  I stood in a queue on Tib Street, round the block from the store which opened at 8 and didn’t move for 20 minutes.  I gave up.  

That’s not what the event is meant to be about, it’s about music fans shopping in real music shops, rather than the soulless caverns such as HMV, where DVD and Bluray are now king, and the mail order world of amazon, or worst the click and download lossy Apple empire.

The pricing doesn’t help matters either.  Seven-inch singles have been getting more expensive over time, but can anyone seriously justify charging £8 for a single?  This admittedly isn’t just an RSD thing – looking in HMV on Oxford St the other week, the Maccabees’ album on CD was £2 cheaper than a single off that album.  But you have to suspect the Kensington and Hammersmith industry mafia are rubbing their hands in glee at the gift horse opportunity to repackage old material to shift at a huge mark-up, all in the spirit of saving indie stores.

Expressing my views on Twitter this morning and within minutes, Stephen Holt from the Inspiral Carpets responded “you old cynic, you” and he might have a point in some respects, but there’s much more that can be done to save our local indie stores.  

If the major label record industry is serious about supporting the independent music store network, and you suspect it isn’t, there are things they can do that don’t involve charging £45 for a double vinyl 180g Fleetwood Mac album or £17.99 for a two-track Arcade Fire 12”, way above the normal market price for such items.    They could start by producing independent store exclusive material the whole year round.   It’s happened in the past, limited sleeves, free posters, exclusive bonus CDs in certain stores and it would provide the record buyer with a reason to shop in their local indie store rather than the high street or on-line and provide a life-blood to those stores struggling to continue their existence.

The other thing they could do would be equalize the playing field in terms of prices charged.   The big retailers benefit from volume of scale discounts that the independent stores can’t achieve.   This makes your local indie store more expensive than HMV and online for new releases.  In these times of austerity, people will vote with their wallets.  And this threatens the very existence of these stores.  There’s very few, if any, independent store openings now, but tales of established, well-run stores closing because the economics of the business has killed them off. 

Record Store Day won’t save our independent record stores.  You need to get people through the door every day not just one day.  It leaves music enthusiasts to pay stupid prices on ebay to complete their collection if they can’t beat the scalpers to the queue.  The stores win at the tills for a day, but it’s a painkiller rather than a cure to the economic ills that are forcing some of them to the wall.  Which is bad news for us all.

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