The blog about Rounder in Brighton closing and what that meant for the rest of the independent shops left was thankfully very well received both at home and abroad and within and outside the music industry. Many of the responses I received also touched on Record Store Day despite my own comment of “As for Record Store Day ………… another time !”
Record Store Day in the UK has come to a crossroads as Spencer Hickman one of those heavily involved moves to New York to help with the opening of the new Rough Trade. This does however give the opportunity for everybody to take stock and decide how best we move forward. As such Record Store Day belongs to nobody and of course all the shops that take part at the same time. Avalanche was a founder member but that gives us no more right to an opinion than all the other shops out there. What I can do is summarise the many comments already made by others to me. Much of this will have already been seen by those who follow on twitter.
Clearly shops do not have the time to organise RSD and the organisers so far have done an amazing job to cope at all. However without anybody to oversee what we did and didn’t accept for instance we ended up with too much and a drop in quality. Similarly whatever the reasoning behind the pricing for some items they should have been refused on grounds of being just too expensive.
What is needed is somebody to run RSD full time. How this would be paid for is a debate in itself. There has been talk of a sponsor which is the route the Americans are going down I believe but is not popular with everybody. The labels and record companies could contribute but again I believe they have not so far been too keen on that idea. There have been offers of fundraising that I must say look promising but are in the early stages. Certainly it does look possible to raise the money necessary to have somebody full time.
I do find is disconcerting to hear opinions from those who clearly have never worked behind the counter in a shop or maybe even worse did so some time ago. Anybody employed to do this job would need extensive experience both behind the counter and dealing with record companies and labels but in what is a contracting industry I think the right person could be found. What this would do is enable something many shops requested and that is for customers to regularly be given reason to go to shops with RSD being the focal point of a year long campaign. They would also have the time to organise more high profile in-stores for RSD.
Other points made that don’t seem too controversial are that the releases should very much rely on current artists rather than reissues if shops are to be seen as relevant to today, that shops should have some reasonable track record of stocking new product if they are to take part in RSD and that as shops have a code of conduct then so should the labels and record companies so that RSD exclusives are indeed that and not available the following week elsewhere.
Shops attitude to online sales is unsurprisingly based on self interest depending how well they do in that area though clearly as the stated aim is to get people into shops selling online should be more of a last resort than an integral part of ordering. It has been suggested that releases should not go online until the last week of May just before the stock is due for payment. That does still provide a safety net while optimising the time people are encouraged to visit their local record shop.
Other ideas have either been discussed less or are more controversial. One close to home for me is whether there could be Scottish/regional RSD releases. It has been pointed out that such a regional variation already exists in America and personally I don’t have a problem with this so long as support is shown for the local shops involved and it is not used as some once a year publicity by bands and labels who spend the rest of the year trying to keep shops out of the equation.
Most controversial is whether HMV should be included as they wish. I have to say I swither back and forwards on this while most shops see it as a fairly clear no. As someone faced with competition from HMV and FOPP I can’t deny it doesn’t on the surface look attractive to exclude them but in the bigger picture it is not really HMV who are the competition. I lose far more sales now to labels and bands than HMV/FOPP. At least I know where I am with HMV while some labels give with one hand and take away with another. Of course it is a mixed picture as some are still very supportive.
Generally though it has to be the “prime directive” to encourage people that there is a better experience to be had in a high street shop than online. Nobody is ever saying that people should never buy online just that they are missing out on something and should when possible visit high street shops. It is hard to argue that many of the indies included in RSD are more worthy than HMV even with all their perceived faults. A pragmatist might argue that if DC (Direct sales to the Customer) is the biggest threat then HMV makes a better ally than enemy.
Something very close to Avalanche’s heart is the selling of posters and badges along with t-shirts and I would be keen to see more merchandise included in RSD as that would bring in those who maybe will never buy music but could potentially still become customers.
In the end even if somebody was employed full time while they could of course request anything they could only work with what they were given. Labels seem unwilling to reveal their sales but without those figures it is genuinely hard to work out what the demand for physical product is. Some labels I know do very well while others admit shops would be surprised at how little they sell. Some say they need the money and others admit they are just “maximising revenue”. I suspect that there are still enough people out there who want to buy physical product and will be for some time but if spread too thinly then shops will not survive unless they make their money elsewhere.
RSD has of course been run in conjunction with ERA (Entertainment Retail Association) who will no doubt be looking to see what its members thoughts are. Shops should let them know what they think and I will certainly forward all the comments I receive. For all their flaws not communicating with ERA will only lead to a vocal minority getting their own way as so often happens in big organisations in which few vote or take part.
For many of us just getting through to Christmas is the main thought but at least if funds can be found and I’m fairly confident they can be then somebody could be in place to start fighting the shops’ corner very quickly indeed.