Archive for March, 2016
When I wrote the previous post it was very much explaining why I had chosen now especially with Record Store Day so close. There are of course underlying problems just as relevant that are already well documented. In these days when location is as important as ever and stock has never sold so slowly HMV and FOPP’s new terms with landlords and record companies after they came out of administration made a level playing field impossible. They may have lost a few prime locations by not wanting to pay the market rent but in most places including Edinburgh with no other likely tenant they can get away with ofering a lot less. Even more important though was their trading terms which coincided with the start of the vinyl revival.
Truth be told new vinyl sells very slowly. Even when we had the market almost completely to ourselves there was little beyond the Arctic Monkeys and White Stripes we could be sure to sell each month and of course what we get one month we have to pay for the end of the next. We coud be fairly sure of Neutral Milk Hotel, The National, Mogwai and several other Avalanche standards but quickly the chances of a sale diminished. One good thing for us was neither HMV or FOPP would ever stock more than five of a title on vinyl on new release so by Monday afternoon we often had the market to ourselves as they regularly failed to restock until the next week. FOPP you may remember had their vinyl stuck in a corner at the top of the stairs. We would regularly have record companies ask us if we would stock a title on vinyl so at least it was available somewhere in Edinburgh.
Just as new vinyl sales definitely started to improve but no other shop was bothered we reached a point where 70% of our sales but by no means our profit were new vinyl. At the same time HMV/FOPP considered vinyl to be a premium product so when pricing they took no heed of any discount and then in fact added a pound or two to give a “premium” price. We were often £3 to £5 cheaper. New release vinyl though sold only for a couple of weeks unlike CDs that often continued to sell for months and getting the numbers right was tricky.
Soon however we would be hit with a triple whammy ! HMV/FOPP’s new trading terms meant they only paid for stock when sold so worrying about how much to stock was no problem at all. This meant they could have a much larger display and jump on the vinyl bandwagon. Then they decided to discount rather than charge a premium but even so they were never cheaper. Finally and most importantly by stocking up on vinyl, titles went out of stock so they would sit on stock they couldn’t sell while we were unable to order more copies. When this started happening for bands like the Twiligt Sad it became a real problem as the label waited for returns from HMV rather than repressing more.
In a bizarre twist when HMV and FOPP had been in real trouble and record companies had stopped supplying them it was the biger indie labels that we sold so much by that continued to supply them and cause greater competition than before. Now it was the same and from time to time HMV/FOPP clearly received deals we did not. Other times they imported cheap vinyl from the States. Soon everything became about an album being on vinyl and the music became secondary and at that point the end times began. It all became about Beratles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin “vinyls” and the vinyl charts echoed this.
Now of course those shops just getting by especially in smaller places happy to sell Adele and the Arctic Monkeys may suddely find that Sainsbury’s around the corner has the Adele album and sales will fall accordingly. As for Record Store Day as one of the big shops said to me it needs the frenzy and that can’t be a good thing. HMV’s attempt at limited vinyl was a flop for that very reason with no queues and much of the unsold stock sent to London where to quote one music industry professional “they are more gullible”. Sorry London !
In the end it thankfully became a very easy decision. Established local bands had been selling directly to their fans for a while, PledgeMusic was taking the dedicated fans’sales who used to frequent the indies leaving only the casual fan to pop into HMV or FOPP in Edinburgh at least and just about every release we looked at was available from the artist’s website always with bundles not available in shops. Even the much lauded “indies only” releases were with a few honourable exceptions available also from the “indie” label often months, never mind weeks before the shops even knew about it.
Just before the announcenment a few people got annoyed with me for retweeting a large number of folk who had received signed copies of the new Steve Mason album days before the release date. Steve had I should say done a great job of personalising the signings. Unfortunately they were only available from Domino his label and limited to a whopping 250 (often there may only be 50). The price was the same as shops but that was a huge chunk of the vinyl total sales. In-stores were the obligatory Rough Trade (London and Nottingham) and Resident in Brighton. Steve I have to say has always been a big supporter of Avalanche on social media and again this is now how things are and it is really up to the labels to think through the damage they are causing by offering such incentives. Sending the signed copies out before the release date was just to rub salt in the wounds.
You can not underestimate the decline of sales in the independents. The new Primal Scream album available from PledgeMusic sold less in the 300+ independents in its first week than the Avalanche shops would have sold in our heyday in the first couple of weeks. Indies now do best when taking a small slice of a large pie as happened with the Bowie album. The second hand market is strong but new indies selling new music with a few exceptions has almost gone.
HMV in Cheltenham where Rise recently closed is opening on April Fools’ Day with “emphasis on the vinyl revival” despite vinyl representing less than 3% of sales. My money is on them raving about vinyl sales while quietly selling mostly Adele CDs which will sum up the music industry nicely !
“When our time comes, when our time comes
I will know, I will know” Whipping Boy
And so it is time. Last Friday I bumped into Martin from the Filthy Tongues and he handed me CDs of their new album. I was particularly interested to see the finished CD as I’d been responsible for Martin discovering the artist Gerrry Gapinski whose artwork had been used for the cover. Regular followers will be familiar with Gerry’s work from the Avalanche tweets and blog. I tweeted we had the album not realising its official release date was the following Friday and immediately gave it a listen to be more than pleasantly surprised at just how good it was. Two more plays later and I was sure this would be one of our albums of the year and with great artwork too !
I was aware that the album was on sale from the band with a variety of prints which given our involvement it would have been nice to have but I could live with that. However I was then sent a barrage of very polite and apologetic messages asking if I could hold off selling the album until their fan base had received it first and their HMV launch the following week. I completely understand why I was asked but the bottom line is even with an album with a cover courtesy of Avalanche we are way down the pecking order.
Now for most albums given we would only sell a handful after the band and HMV took their cut it would not be an issue at least for the band. However the problem with this is that it is a very good album indeed but once the fans have it and HMV have given it a couple of weeks it will be finished unless of course someone happens to stand there day in day out telling people asking for recommendations what a good album it is and playing it so people will ask what it is. People love it when there is a story behind an album so if they had any doubts Gerry’s artwork will seal it. Add in our social media and website and sales from our end of year chart and the numbers start to mount. We will never reach the 800+ sales we achieved for the first Withered Hand album again but even so.
Then there is another dilemma. We go on social media and say this will without doubt be one of our albums of the year and many of our followers will simply go to FOPP or HMV and buy it because they are nearer. But there is more.
When the Frightened Rabbit album was announced I immediately received enquiries as to whether there would be an Avalanche or indies special. We had sold 110 out of 500 of the last limited vinyl. At the time HMV/FOPP were in administration and only stocking important titles on CD. Vinyl was not considered an important enough format for any artist even when they were playing an in-store as Frightened Rabbit were. I was fairly sure but not certain that this time there was no special format something that was recently confirmed. Meanwhile fans were encouraged to buy from the band’s Warners website with the vinyl a bargain £12.99 for a signed copy. Again as I suspected this is actually less than the cost to a shop who would expect to sell it for £16.99. Want a signed CD ? That will be Amazon or the band website at a price this time just above cost.
Never mind the week before has some great releases. Explosions In The Sky with a limited vinyl except that their UK label put it on sale ages ago at again a price below cost. The Last Shadow Puppets also have a limited vinyl but you can be sure their label will email the entire LSP/Arctic Monkeys fan base to sell directly and if previous emails are anything to go by not even mention it will be available in shops. That leaves us with a limited indies only Mogwai vinyl which shops are at least given a fair chance to sell.
Depressing as all this might be for a shop like myself it is nothing compared to the Record Store Day list for this year. Given the fantastic rosters many record companies and labels have what shops have been offered is a huge disappointment but not a great surprise given vinyl reissues were once an unusual occurrence whereas they now appear every week. Collectors will still buy the artists they collect but it is no wonder so many shops are asking what people are looking for as it is impossible to guess what these once a year customers will buy.
It is no coincidence that just two weeks before Record Store Day there is an independent label fair in London with excatly the sort of interesting goodies that Record Store Day should be all about. As a consequence I’ve decided to wirhdraw from RSD. No doubt we would have sold a few Primal Scream, Malcolm Middleton and Associates singles but then on the other hand we will have lost far more sales to those artists who all currently have their new albums / reissues available on PledgeMusic.
My original intention had been to assess how we moved forward after RSD but with that decision made it seemed sensible to decide on the shop’s future now. Given all I’ve said it is clear that there is simply not enough business left after everybody else takes a cut for Avalanche to do what we have done for the last 30 years and consequently I will shut the doors by the end of the month. There has been a huge interest in the History of Scottish Music Centre idea and it will give me time to pursue that. It is a decision made even harder when only this week there have been customers in especially from the US, Australia and Europe just to buy vinyl, Scottish bands, posters and Avalanche t-shirts. The first email I opened yesterday was from an Italian customer returning to Edinburgh wondering if I had anything as good as the There Will Be Fireworks album I sold him on his last visit.
What will end is a dedicated shop where customers can buy the music they have often read about via our social media. What is possible or indeed likely is that there will still be a place customers can go to buy the music we are so well known for whether that is part of a Scottish Music Centre or elsewhere. Avalanche’s influence and worldwide reach has never been greater but now we are in competition with artists, labels and record companies there is not enough support to continue. You should buy the Filthy Tongues album it is a great album. Frightened Rabbit are it goes without saying a wonderful band and I heard from Scott only yesterday offering support. This is just how things are now. There will be a sale.
More in our next post http://www.avalancherecords.co.uk/2016/03/27/our-time-has-come/
I totally get artists concentrating on their superfans though it does sometimes feel like fans are being taken advantage of and potential new fans are being ignored but I think there is a far bigger issue than that. I’ve yet to see any convincing strategy for new artists to build up the kind of fan bases that the older established artists have garnered under of course the old regime of record companies, labels and record shops. Current experts talk a good game but the gathering of emails and other info can not replace the loyalty built up by more traditional methods as was done a decade or more ago. Even the Arctic Monkeys are now seasoned veterans of ten years or more.
There is a reason that the PledgeMusic model has moved towards established bands preselling their releases and that is that is what works best. For small bands trying to convince strangers to support them PledgeMusic will at best only have a marginal efect. It wouldn’t surprise me if a whole load of stats were produced to prove otherwise but then proof that these new models work rely very heavily on figures and very little on “real world” success.
In the real world small bands and labels regularly tell me that the vinyl revival has done them no favours and that building a sustainable fan base has never been harder. Even for bigger bands if sales are very fan based then their album is soon forgotten and only for a band like Primal scream does the model work well with hardcore fans catered for by PledgeMuisc and the larger casual fan base then served by HMV and Amazon. Despite his best intentions and efforts Benji Rogers’ PledgeMusic may very well have done more harm to new/small bands than the good that was intended.
There is a common misconception that vinyl just naturally gives a “warmer” sound. Of course in reality if you use a digital master it will sound no better than a CD. More importantly an awful song on vinyl will still be dreadful. A great song will be great on any format. A vinyl sleeve is the perfect “shop window” for a band and it should never be underestimated the importance of a band’s name or its album and song titles but vinyl itself is not cool. What matters is the music.
It was bad enough when the focus of Record Store Day went from supporting independent shops to buying vinyl but now the focus seems to have switched from the music itself to the format it is presented on. While I’m always happy to talk about music and especially new music at least 80% of customers’ conversations these days now seems to revolve around “I see vinyl is making a comeback”. It is clear that many have no problem with this trend and while I’m all for young people in particular discovering older music, in fact I would encourage it, however if that is all there is then along with other factors (of which more later) it will be impossible for a new generation of musicians to come through with anything but the most minimal success.