The “need” for artists to sell online – Mr Billy Bragg argues the case

Contrary to what people may think I have no problem with artists selling online. Where a problem arises is when artists put shops at a disadvantage preselling themselves but then expect their support come the release. I’m not the only one to think like this and I was very sad to see my good friends at Spillers being berated by Billy Bragg of all people over the plans for his latest album. It started like this

Pre-order my new album Tooth & Nail directly from me and get a free signed print …

This was picked up not by a shop but a blogger about the music industry.

@billybragg But I thought you loved record shops & their role in our cultural community. Why cut them out? Not trolling, genuinely curious

@justplayed I do, but not everyone has a local record shop. Just trying to offer people online an alternative to the Big Ugly A’s

Only then did Spillers make a very valid comment

@billybragg not every one has a local shop but those who do will be short changed as u offer more incentive 4online w/print. @justplayed ?

Billy then dragged in RSD rather erroneously and a heated debate ensued. 

What is clearly a bogus argument is that artists “need” to sell online or what would fans without record shops do. The answer of course is they would buy from the websites of record shops. Now I’m not saying there aren’t other valid reasons for artists selling online just that the reason Billy gives here is not one of them. As is correctly pointed out what it in fact does is either encourage fans to buy online rather than go to a shop or expect fans to  miss out on the extras by supporting their local record shop.

Interestingly I’ve seen no better support for the “buy from a record shop’s website” point than from Constellation home to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Unfortunately Godspeed played 14 dates selling their album at the gig and Constellation sold their entire stock before a record shop was given the release but this is what the label said.

“Constellaton and GYBE care deeply about keeping indie record shops alive and viable – please support them by requesting/reserving the album, or if you do not live anywhere near a good indie store, check out the many stores that do also have online shops.”

Artists can obviously choose to sell to their fans directly but all shops are asking is that they don’t pretend they “have to” so fans can get the releases. By doing so they draw people away from their local record shops that much is clear. Not all shops agree I grant you but frankly those that make the bulk of their money from other things (second hand, tickets etc ) have no reason to feel so strongly. And Billy if you happen to read this those Spillers folk are lovely people brave enough to say what others think. Something I’m sure you approve of. 

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