Bonus CDs and Exclusives

We recently had a collection come in including several albums that had come from Rough Trade with bonus CDs. Now we are often asked how they manage this and of course there is no simple answer. Much as record companies and labels love independent shops in theory they don’t want to piss off HMV or Amazon or Play.com or iTunes  ……….. so shops tend to get offered the crumbs the rest don’t want. These days labels generally keep the best stuff for themselves to sell on their own websites eventually offering shops the box set, live album etc long after they have sold as many copies as they can to the artist’s fan base.

It does help though to have friends in high places so if for instance you would like a 5 track bonus disc for the XX album on Young Turks/XL Recordings (part of the Beggars Group) then it helps if the owner of Beggars is a director and XL are shareholders. Now Martin Mills the founder/owner/chairman of Beggars is a legend having saved many important labels when they have been in financial trouble and brought them into the Beggars Group. Similarly his input with Rough Trade helped them open Rough Trade East. However it is one thing helping an iconic record shop like Rough Trade to thrive and it is another to do so at the expense of other independent shops. It should be pointed out of course that there are many other labels that also provide exclusives to RT and as a business RT are entitled to take every business advantage they can get. Given the unfair competition high street shops face from all sides I would of course have the biased view that shops collectively should be given “extras” to help counterbalance this and that maybe having a “thriving” Rough Trade while many of their counterparts struggle is not a good thing.

Just as big a problem is labels providing cheap stock to HMV/FOPP and online sellers so they can sell to the public cheaper than independent shops can buy it from the distributor. I’m also promised that sometimes the online sellers sell stock for less than they have paid and not because the stock is not selling. While the labels can not dictate price to Amazon for instance a very brave label could not supply them at all if they thought their product was going to be devalued. On several occasions now the XX album on CD has been £3.99 on Amazon when its published dealer price is £6.00 and even with the maximum discounts available it would cost more than that for a shop to buy from the distributor. Is that really the message Beggars want sent out that the XX are only worth £3.99 ? You certainly could not accuse Beggars/XL of always favouring Rough Trade. RT were very supportive of the first Adele album and I see their reward is for Amazon to be given an exclusive for the new album. Similarly the new Fall Omnibus edition has a buy link from the Beggars website. Again the lucky winner is Amazon.

Already this year independent shops have been given the British Sea Power album (on Rough Trade the label and also part of the Beggars Group) with a bonus CD and offered links and that has to be applauded. However not one single Avalanche customer knew there was a bonus CD until they came in the shop and I couldn’t find any mention of it on the band’s website though there were links to iTunes, HMV, Play and Amazon at the top of the page. Again you would have to suspect that even when the indies do get something decent nobody wants to rock the boat too much by making it too obvious and it is left to the shops to publicise it themselves.

So essentially the answer to those who ask about all these extra discs and exclusives is that the “indie world” is unfortunately a rather dog eat dog, every man for himself place these days. Yes there are still shops that are in friendly competition and would have it no other way and even now in these competitive times work together sometimes. There are labels that still do their best to look after shops. Sadly though there are others that will strive to gain an advantage whenever they can and at the expense of friend and foe alike. It isn’t a foregone conclusion which strategy if any will lead to survival for shops but many record companies and labels have certainly placed their bets.

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