Archive for December, 2013
More accurately what things could we be doing next year.
Well we will definitely be working with The Cake Shop NYC. I’ve held off on this as a government initiative covering exactly this sort of idea was announced and I expected some feedback by the beginning of December but now that will be January so we will go ahead anyway. More details on this very soon.
We will also definitely be working more closely with bands and labels on merchandise and in particular posters. Ever popular with our customers it isn’t always easy convincing bands and labels that the “old ways” are the best. With the support of the UK’s top poster display company we will not only be commissioning a range of posters but don’t be surprised if you see posters advertising our favourite albums in cities around the UK.
I’m considering various offers regarding the Avalanche label both old and new. There is a lot of interest in our old New Zealand releases some of which I still own the rights to and others I’m sure could be arranged. I’ve been offered distribution deals so current bands could get distribution “under an Avalanche umbrella” and certainly there is interest in facilitating the release of some of our best sellers on vinyl while bearing in mind vinyl does not sell quite as well as people think. If I did go ahead with a distribution deal all the sales and marketing would be done in-house. The manufacture of vinyl would require some backing as though I would expect to recoup I think it would be a relatively slow process.
Some of you may remember an idea to send our 15 best selling albums to 30 of the best record shops in the world. Not abandoned by any means the sponsorship needed has not been forthcoming so far. However closer to home there has been a lot of interest in making Avalanche recommended albums available more widely. Interest ranges from a small box of our best sellers, to a rack with all the Avalanche signature albums to something maybe a little bigger including some of our posters and vinyl too.
Social media is nowhere as powerful as many make out but Avalanche does have a good record of steering people towards great albums and could equally steer people towards shops stocking them. Avalanche as a brand actually means something to people though it is slightly different things to different people. For some Avalanche is about breaking and supporting Scottish bands while for others it is more about the “miserable boy indie” genre I joke about going back to our Bright Eyes days. I always like to remind our hipster friends that we were well known of course for supporting Neutral Milk Hotel “before they were mainstream”. Others still remember all those New Zealand releases.
This would take some effort and support but top of the list is Aberdeen. I’ve had several requests to move Avalanche out of Edinburgh and again Aberdeen is at the top but while HMV there continues to stock so much vinyl on consignment it would not be feasible at all. Given I live close to Livingston and HMV doesn’t even stock vinyl that would be far more sensible but again who is to say they wouldn’t start ? It would however be quite possible to have an Avalanche section in a suitable shop in Aberdeen. It would be important that they played and supported the music but I have many Aberdeen customers who would support it. I would of course consult with my old friends at One Up to make sure they had no comeback plans !
I’ve other confidential offers that may or may not happen (I receive two or three offers a week to work with the Avalanche brand) but the other thing that crops up over and over again is the coffee shop idea. This is very simple in the context of the current shop. I would need a guaranteed income. I’m very happy to speak to people about any coffee shop ideas but running a record shop is unstable enough. I need the stability of a guaranteed income. What would be amazing would be a shop/venue that had everything. Music, vintage clothing, coffee, amazing cakes and chocolate and a bar. Not that dissimilar to the Cake shop NYC of course. For now that will need to go on the back burner but if anybody has the money !
First things first though and we need to clear a load of stock and pay a load of bills before we move/leave.
So the most common question is “Is there any chance of us staying in the shop?” There are three main issues which I can not see resolved in a way that could see us stay. Most important of all is competition. I’ve always said that FOPP and to a much lesser extent HMV are serious competition for us. Given some decent releases (Frightened Rabbit and Nick Cave) and a level playing field, last February was our best month for a long time. While we would always have expected to do well with Rick Redbeard when HMV and FOPP’s administrators deemed it not important enough to stock we noticed a big increase of people in the shop, commenting that FOPP didn’t have it, interestingly spotting other stuff they wanted as well and claiming they would have to come back soon. Few returned once FOPP started stocking most new releases again.
The problem is simple. As is well documented all the Edinburgh HMVs were due to close as they were losing serious money. FOPP survived but even they have bills paid by HMV. HMV had a massive closing down sale but then landlords realising that the properties would be hard to get another tenant for offered low and often a period of no rent at all. Already shops are now being closed in January including Fort Kinnaird as these rent free periods end. At the same time record companies caved for demands for consignment so stock wasn’t paid for until sold. It simply isn’t possible to compete with shops that have prime locations but are not paying rent and not having to pay for stock.
We have tried to concentrate on those areas where we have no competition from FOPP ie second hand and posters but at the same time new vinyl largely ignored and stuck in a corner has been much expanded (easy to do if you aren’t paying for it) so sales are overall lost there despite the general increase in vinyl sales. With a few exceptions like The National and Boards of Canada we have seen new release sales plummet and back catalogue sales drop dramatically. At the same time many titles out of stock with distributors were in plentiful supply in FOPP while other titles regularly appeared below cost price.
Local band sales another staple and an area we faced little competition in also dropped considerably often to a third of previous sales if the band or label aggressively encouraged fans to buy directly before release so much so we had to introduce a stocking policy. Whether promoting a second album like the There Will Be Fireworks release or first albums by Quickbeam or recently Dead Flowers I think we have shown the benefits of giving us a fair chance to sell a release. All these bands and their labels had sales online as well as album launches but also promoted the fact we had the album in the shop and online which is all we ask.
Whatever the future holds I expect to work with Bwani Junction and Withered Hand on their releases and of course Mogwai and Rock Action have given indies a bonus 7″ for their new vinyl which will certainly help. I’ll look to work even more closely with those bands who want to on not only their releases but also their merchandise and marketing. More of that later.
Finally we moved to the Grassmarket with high hopes after so much money (4 millin pounds) had been spent and with the prospect of it becoming a BID area. Instead we had no sooner moved than the Christmas market was cancelled as all resources were used to support the festivities in Princes street suffering from the tram works. Clearly a big wheel, an ice rink and a German Market was not enough and the Grassmarket was left with nothing. This year and with the BID in place to protect our interests it got worse ! The council doesn’t seem to understand that by attracting peopel to one area it has to be attracting them away from others and I obviously don’t just mean the Grassmarket.
With the new European market being such a huge disappointment to many with “every third stall the same” it is even more galling that the wide range of shops on offer in the Grassmarket has not been promoted. To say retailers are unhappy would be an understatement but I can’t see things improving as they stand.
We’ve been offered better terms by some record companies (for which I am genuinely grateful) but still nothing to match those of HMV/FOPP. I should add our landlord also kindly offered not to put up the rent but it still leaves us lagging well behind in being able to compete on level terms. While Saturdays are normally very busy the rest of the week can be disastrously quiet and this is a general retail problem which again I can’t see improving.
As a centre for promoting Scottish music the shop could exist where it is as it is well located for that but as a straight forward retail unit the odds are just stacked too heavily against it given the triple whammy of HMV’s terms, the council’s lack of support for the area and the more general problems of the high street. While the lack of support from some local bands and labels is unhelpful it is not as crucial as these other factors. It does have to be said though that the continual support of bands like Frightened Rabbit, Withered Hand, Ballboy, Admiral Fallow, Olympic Swimmers and others have made life a lot easier. Chemikal Underground and Rock Action along with other smaller labels have also been a great help. Again I am very grateful to them all.
I have now been approached by other retailers asking me to stay and as you can probably tell I firmly believe in the Grassmarket but I see no way to overcome the challenges faced in our curent location.
So you may never emulate your idols but you can now drink like them thanks to the Grassmarket Hogmanay Fair and Thistly Cross Cider. From now until the 2nd January they are offering their fine wares much loved by Scott Hutchison, Aidan Moffat and Dan Willson, a supergroup in the making, and if you are peckish they do burgers too.
As Scott explains in The Skinny – Food Hero: It’s not food, but who needs that lumpy shite anyway? Thistly Cross cider is something Scotland can be proud of. Also, they organised a damn fine festival this summer. Good folks.
The perfect gift, twitter followers may remember the Frightened Rabbit guys sending some to Aidan, and a great choice to bring in the New Year.
There is other good stuff too but you will see that when you get there and of course feel free to pop into Avalanche afterwards. You are welcome !
I’ve become very aware recently just how many people have invested their time and money in Avalanche over the last 30 years and it seems only reasonable at this crucial time to keep people informed. I’m still slightly taken aback when somebody in from abroad knows so much about the shop, the bands we recommend and what is happening and it always ends with the inevitable “I read your blog” something I just continually forget about as an explanation. When somebody visiting from New York or Melbourne comments out of the blue about the Mogwai fan from Chile that was in a couple of weeks ago it brings home what a small world we now live in.
Anyway rather than have one very long post I’ll simply post in several parts as I get time or fed up answering emails. One thing I want to make clear is I chose to take this path for the shop. I’m well aware there were safer, easier and more well trod routes to survival but to be honest dabbling in new stuff, selling second hand and boosting income from Amazon was never going to be an option. Admittedly doggedly trying to sell customers albums by bands they’ve never heard of and persuading youngsters music is actually worth spending money on while still supporting those big crossover indie bands like The National isn’t the easiest especially as the latter brings us into competition with the dying dinosaur that is HMV/FOPP.
However if anything confirmed that “somebody has to do it” or great new music would be lost to the high street it was the release of two stunning albums at the end of the year from There Will Be Fireworks and Dead Flowers. Truth be told there aren’t a lot of great albums released in a year which is a huge problem for everybody from bloggers and radio presenters to shops who need an “album of the week”. People will want to own and spend money on great albums but understandably give most albums a listen, judge them as “OK” and never consider them worth their hard earned cash. What this confirmed is that maybe the way forward was to sell lots of only the best albums.
This isn’t exactly a new idea. Customers and shops from New York have been telling me “boutique” was the only way forward for years. And of course while selling new music is exciting great albums will continue to sell as is shown by our continuous sales of the Whipping Boy and Babybird simply by playing them. On the other hand and I appreciate this is a failing on my part from a sales viewpoint I simply don’t understand why a band would be successful just because it does a passable impression of Sonic Youth, Pavement, Sonic Youth meets Pavement or indeed Siouxsie.
So the first piece of the jigsaw is to concentrate on the best in new music and older releases that will still be “new” to many people.
Some people seem to think we have changed our stocking policy after comments on twitter but nothing has changed. We simply expect to have a release available for sale (including presale) at the same time, at the same price and offering the same “extras” if there are any. We also expect the artist/band to publicise we have the release.
As we give more attention to the online shop this will still apply. One new thing however will be because there simply isn’t time to list everything if artists or indeed labels aren’t listed I’ll link to their own site so customers will still have the option to buy. I was disappointed with the comments made but exactly the same rules were in place for the new There Will Be Fireworks album that applied to the Kid Canaveral album. As for the latter I had no contact with the label or the band about how the album would be marketed before its release and in fact received a very understanding email from Johnny then still at Fence accepting it was unlikely I would stock the album.
Some customers have taken exception to the “bullying tactics” of those who feel they have the right to market their release any way they want (which of course they do) but still expect shops to then do the hard work of helping them reach beyond their fan base. As I say I was disappointed to see such comments but I’m even more disappointed at the lack of exposure some great bands receive settling to be big fish in a fairly small pond.
Lots more positive stuff to come here so I’d rather not dwell on this. Nobody is right or wrong here as everybody is entitled to handle their own affairs as they choose. This issue has escalated to the point that Target and Amazon aren’t stocking the Beyonce album ! The bottom line is retail big or small, on the high street or online can not survive on the crumbs left by artists who choose to sell directly to their fans exclusively before offering to retailers. Shops in particular only have time to promote a limited number of releases so it makes sense to deal with those artists who support them. If anybody is unsure I’m more than happy to discuss releases in advance and see how Avalanche can help.