No-return policy on Pitchfork recommendations !

pine vinyl pitchfork bon iver

Streaming and “engaging with your fans”

pledgemusicI’m convinced that soon for at least the music I’m interested in selling people will be divided into two camps. Those who simply listen to music and use streaming and those wish to own “stuff” and will continue to buy physical product. There are of course two markets Avalanche doesn’t really touch upon now which is the huge chart seller such as Ed Sheeran and the collector who buys everything by an artist. We do have customers who fit the latter category but not in the numbers other shops seem to have. We have three David Bowie fans ! 

Anyway I simply don’t see Spotify as a threat to sales. Some listen and then buy and those who just listen were not going to buy anyway. Virtually all artists seem to make their album available to be heard before the release date which I’m still not sure works. People listen and either think it is OK but not worth their hard earned cash or mean to buy but having heard the album either don’t get round to it or think they will wait for it to be cheaper. Certainly if we get a new shop I would install Spotify for customers if that were possible.

As for the “engaging with your fans” model it is clearly one that works if done properly but can have several flaws. If a band has a deal and are big enough that they can sell to hardcore fans and through HMV and Amazon to casual fans then all is well except they have cut out the indies completely. However most sell to dedicated fans and any casual fans they have will be happy with Spotify. It really limits their sales and quickly the album dies.

It is early days yet but if shops could be included in the process somehow much could be gained by both sides. Often I’m not sure bands are the best people to be organising their campaigns anyway. They tend to follow the same formula and really only get away with what is often a poor pitch because they are preaching to the converted.

Whatever route artists are taking they nearly always now use a site that will mean their sales are counted chart wise so when the figures are so low this is not because sales have been lost somewhere it is because they have sold very little even after including fan sales. That is what amazes me when I see figures. While sales of music would undoubtedly be falling anyway the highly organised and aggressive targeting of fans does not seem to have arrested the decline at all. Some might even say it has accelerated it.

One major Scottish band had a 7″ single out recently. Ironically the sort of thing that would sell 500 on Record Store Day no problem at all. Now their label is registered for the charts and you can be sure all sales logged. The total sales for the 7″ was 35. That is for ALL sales outlets. Now undoubtedly more were sold abroad but that is a label emailing what I’m sure is a considerable fan base and yet selling very few in the UK indeed. When I moaned at one big indie setting up a monthly album club that again could only take away sales from shops they admitted only 11 people had signed up.  

What is needed is some balance between the frenzied madness that is Record Store Day and the complete apathy that accompanies most releases the rest of the year. Of course I am biased but I think nobody handles selling music online better than shops and yet now labels and artists take the easy pickings and still expect shops to show support. There is no argument more annoying than the one that labels need to cater for those without shops as that is exactly what the shops’ online presence is for.

It will surprise none of you who read the blog regularly to know I have familiarised myself with PledgeMusic, Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc etc. I follow on twitter and I’m amazed at the industry that surrounds them. There is no doubt these are powerful tools currently being massively underutilised. I intend to remedy that !

Ongoing best sellers 2014

witheredhandnewgodscover1.  Withered Hand – New Gods 

2.  Mogwai – Rave Tapes

3.  Owl John – Owl John

4.  King Creosote – From Scotland With Love

5.   PAWS – Youth Culture Forever

6.   Broken Records – Weights and Pulleys

7.  Hamish James Hawk – Aznavour

8.  Jack White – Lazaretto

Owl_John9.  Phantom Band – Strange Friend

10. James Yorkston – Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society  

11. Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes

12. Morrissey – World Peace Is none Of Your Business

13. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

14. Young Fathers – Dead

15.=Remember Remember – Forgetting The Present 

15.=Bwani Junction – Tongue Of Bombie

Twilight Sad RSD 2xLP

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A great result for Scottish bands in the top 10 with only Jack White breaking the stranglehold. Of course the two big selling reissues have been the Record Store Day release of the Twilight Sad’s “Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters”on double vinyl followed by Mogwai’s “Come On Die Young” with over an hour of extra material available as a deluxe double CD or a 4xLP box set. The God Help the Girl soundtrack is a healthy third. 

You can of course buy any of these titles from our website shop   http://vsilly.com/avalanche_shop/index.php

Please sell us your vinyl !

LP spinesI should say I never intended these blog posts to be any sort of reference material for those interested in the music industry and where it is heading. That I regularly get asked if I can be quoted in academic papers is frankly quite bizarre. That those in London with no idea of the real world read my blog I can understand ! One thing I have come to realise is that while interaction on social media is useful it is no indication of how many people are following Avalanche’s journey. 

We have always enabled our support of local bands by selling other things and in the old days it was hundreds of Bright Eyes albums or Arcade Fire or even Kings of Leon. If we are to reappear on the high street then we need something that makes the money “that pays the rent” or in Edinburgh more accurately the rates. We do well with posters and they are a good USP more of which later but we need something more and that has to be second hand vinyl and more accurately big collections of collectable vinyl. Again I’m very lucky to have investors prepared to finance the buying of large collections something I could certainly not afford to do myself.

It is of course the model for most new shops opening and it isn’t hard to see why when on average I sell one rare item a day online that will make me more money than 95% of new releases. I would never be happy simply selling second hand vinyl even the interesting valuable stuff but as part of a bigger picture and if it brings in the money that pays for everything else ………………………..  

Expect a blitz soon but for now if you have a large collection of vinyl or know of somebody with a large collection who is looking to sell please put them in touch on the shop email avalancherecords@hotmail.co.uk

While I embrace the old skool ways I don’t think anybody will see our next move coming !

A Fight We Can’t Win

rickredbeardWhen HMV/FOPP was in administration it gave me a glimpse of how things might be. Run by the administrators and only stocking releases they felt were essential all vinyl was deemed unnecessary and Scottish artists such as Rick Redbeard and Conquering Animal Sound weren’t stocked at all. The result for Avalanche was huge sales of the new Biffy Clyro and Frightened Rabbit albums on vinyl and probably an extra 50 sales of the Rick Redbeard album mostly on CD. I could tell they were extra sales as so many of the customers commented on FOPP not having it and interestingly more than half bought other things nearly all local Scottish bands.

Many commented how FOPP was nearer to their work but they would be in more often now they had seen how they had been missing out on local releases. Some did return for Conquering Animal Sound but by late summer when Hilco took over and consignment meant FOPP could stock whatever they wanted without worrying about payment all these “extra” customers had melted away. 

I didn’t mind competing with the “old” FOPP as they never got enough stock in of obvious big sellers so would be sold out by Monday and might not get more all week. No matter how big on vinyl an album would be they never took more than 5 copies. We might take 50. These are now changed times and there is no prospect things will get better so we just have to accept this is simply not an area we can apply our limited resources. I’ve had very kind investors offer to help with both location and stock but it simply isn’t possible to compete when the competition isn’t having to pay for stock and in the case of HMV isn’t paying anything like the market rent.

This is really just a preamble to what we hope to do and an explanation for all those who can’t understand why we aren’t doing well “now vinyl has made a comeback”. We stocked new vinyl simply because that was what we did but now vinyl is used as a way to look “cool” a la Urban Outfitters. That as much as 30% of all vinyl bought is never played hints at a large section of buyers who simply “collect” an artist or see buying as an image thing. Old people will shudder to hear that most young people claiming to have a collection of “vinyls” own less than 20 !

So we won’t be opening a shop in Rose Street selling new vinyl so what will we do ?

Exclusives are none of my business

With his new 10" EP only available from HMV Morrissey denies selling out

With his new 10″ EP only available from HMV Morrissey denies selling out

 

So today should be the kind of day I wish the shop was already back open with new albums from Morrissey, Honeyblood and Slow Club. Instead it only highlights the problems we would face. In the US the limited Morrissey 10″ EP was available from indies but in the UK things are different. Available exclusively for £6 from HMV and FOPP it also gives you a £3 discount off the new album and for anyone who didn’t have it the recent Morrissey book is £3 too. This price driven approach harks back to the bad old days and is simply unnecessary. With customers polarised these days between fans and those who will be content to listen on Spotify the result is clear.

As with virtually all bands these days should you watch their latest video on YouTube Slow Club will direct you to iTunes, Amazon and their own site for exclusives. No mention of the indies that support them unless you check for their live appearances when they play the obligatory in-store at Rough Trade East and then later in the week at the new RT acquisition Rise in Bristol. You want a signed CD ? That will be an exclusive from their own site I’m afraid.

Never mind long time supporter of Scottish bands Fat Cat have a highly touted album out by Honeyblood and there is a limited clear vinyl their Scottish fans many who have followed them from the start understandably are keen to obtain. Afraid not ! That would be a Rough Trade exclusive.

Now shops tell me what to do is to play the albums in-store and pick up sales from customers who are unaware that they are missing out on a limited version. Many seem reconciled that they will be shafted week after week by artists and labels they have supported and fear saying anything will lose them what crumbs remain.

As I have always tried to get over to people my position is not some stand against labels and bands and it is not about punishing bands by not stocking their album. It is about quite simply giving the customer the best service we can. Nothing highlighted this more than when the House of Love album came out on Cherry Red a while ago and there was an exclusive vinyl with an extra track not available to shops. I could not in all conscience sell the CD to customers I had known for decades in some cases when I knew that they would want the vinyl if they just knew it existed. Shop policy was to tell them that they could get the vinyl directly from the label which many did insisting to a man that they at least bought something else while they were in.

Every shop faces different circumstances and for Avalanche with strong competition from HMV and FOPP for the more casual music fan we have always catered for the very knowledgeable fans of bands and music in general which of course in these days of direct sales is a major flaw in our sales strategy. I do get annoyed when I’m told to accept this is how things are because that is exactly what I do.  However in the same way that it is hard to balance streaming’s popularity with decent payments to the artist so it is just as hard for a shop to justify a commitment to new bands, new music and new releases when they are put at such a disadvantage by direct sales.

I do have a  plan that may or may not work that will depend on that very strength that our customers are so knowledgeable and at the same time will embrace all the changes  we face especially direct sales and streaming. Justifying a physical shop is even harder but as cunning plans go it might just work !     

So just to clarify about streaming, crowdfunding, DTC etc

spotify-icon1So to clarify I’m not saying that this is a future I would choose I’m saying it is the future I envisage. If you have no wish to own stuff then Spotify is perfect and there is no loss of sales to shops. If artists, labels and record companies sell directly then at the moment their models are flawed.

For “big” artists with a hardcore fan base and a lot of more casual fans then there is no problem. They can “engage” with their keen fans selling them any amount of bundles and then sell to the casual fan via HMV and Amazon. On the other hand though if an artist produces a great album but only has a solid fan base then it will be lost in no time at all as there is simply nobody left out there to buy it.

If you are an established band happy just selling to your fans then a slow decline awaits. If you are an up and coming band happy to just stick with what you’ve managed to achieve with probably a lot of hard work then the “big break” is unlikely. Things don’t have to be like this with even just a level playing field but if if labels and bands always want the jump on shops for sales then they can’t be surprised at what happens. Having said that for some shops there are enough crumbs and they are big enough that they will continue living off scraps pleased they “finally” have a release especially if they have other income streams. 

I reckon good shops are so much better at selling directly to artists’ fan bases (and don’t forget shops have their own contacts and mailing lists too) that maybe bands should ask their favourite local shop to do it for them while still embracing the crowd funding / direct-to-fan model. Watch this space !

Avalanche update – Looking for a new home – PledgeMusic, crowdfunding and streaming is the future. iTunes doomed !

avalanche-logo-use NMEI’ll keep this short but you won’t be surprised there is more to come. So what have I learned in our break ? Well while all our various pop-ups/stalls were well received they were hard work especially given how heavy vinyl is to move around. People were very supportive but generally would like us to have a base they can visit every day and therein lies a problem as that isn’t economical most days of the week. Don’t get me wrong I have also discovered that we can do well on Discogs but I don’t intend to have a shop that exists by filling all the quiet times with online sales. A perfectly reasonable strategy but not for me. I’m more than happy to supplement sales online but not to the point that is what keeps the shop open !

There are however other things I could fill my time with while operating a shop and what I have done is break down the various components that make up Avalanche and realised that unsurprisingly there is way too much for one person to cope with even working all the waking hours. More of that later.  One thing that is constantly mentioned is what a “loss” is would be should Avalanche not resurface and there has been some recognition of this from Edinburgh Council which may or may not amount to anything. 

One key problem is artists think they can do what I do and most can’t. I have no talent for what they do but they see no skill in what I do. Of course our approach in the shop translates through to our social media presence and works there too. For those interested there is a plan. PledgeMusic, crowdfunding platforms and Spotify/streaming in general are the future but not as they are used by bands now cutting out shops completely. I see a future for shops with these models but why anybody would pay for a download is beyond me and the iTunes model is doomed. 

I’ll be looking for partners in some areas but for now I’m open to suggestions as to where we locate. Make absolutely no mistake FOPP/HMV are our competition with regards to new stuff. They don’t pay for it so they can stock what they want and if they are nearer to a customer than Avalanche we will normally not get the sale. Maybe we just don’t try to compete and concentrate on other areas. Sister Ray is about to open in a cool hotel and other shops have opened in art centres and eating places. We need low overheads and some footfall to supplement our regular custom. Our base needs to be permanent and ideally I need to have something as soon as possible. I’m not ruling out a stand alone shop in fact I’m actively looking but they are hard to justify. If Edinburgh Council have any buildings as was suggested then …………..

Avalanche news

Avalanche logo - useReally sad to have to say that I’ve decided to end our time at Cafe Voltaire at least for now. It is clear people and especially visitors come along for the “Avalanche experience” which I wasn’t able to recreate once we downsized to the current smaller curated space from the original space we occupied. It is certainly something I’d be happy to look at again in the future and I’ve learned a lot from our time there but for now I need to decide on how we move forward.

I’d always intended to look at the viability of a new shop and location after the Festival so I have just had to bring that discussion forward. And a discussion it is as things are by no means simple. What is clear from speaking to people and emails I’ve received is that people come to the shop to have a chat, hear about what is new and discuss what has been said on our social media platforms. Visitors had expressed disappointment in emails that I hadn’t been about ! 

Certainly our large stall at the Platform 2 market at Waverley station worked well with its focus on new vinyl and Scottish bands and there was still time to talk to everyone ! There was a young girl from Russia buying new vinyl and the Young Marble Giants CD I recommended on the back of The xx and a guy from Houston, Texas who remembered TV21 and I was able to tell him how good their new album is as well. After chatting he went on to buy two Twilight Sad CDs and the latest There Will Be Fireworks album. Sadly even adding in some second hand vinyl and poster sales this sort of business is not enough to sustain a high street shop something Edinburgh council have finally recognised

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/empty-council-building-could-become-music-venues-1-3457428

I’m open to all ideas and locations. It is by no means a given that we will stay in Edinburgh. Ideally we will have a shop and still be able to do things like Platform 2. More to come. 

Pine Vinyl Vs The Hipsters

Hipsters demand record shop closes – “Is it because we didn’t have that Bright Eyes Christmas album or because we don’t have a bike rack ?” – very funny cartoon.