Our time has come

nipper gifWhen 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.

twilightsadnoonecaneverknowSoon 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.

steve mason signing albumsJust 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 !

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