The State We’re In

When the indies were a lot bigger the non-indie shops were more prevalent too. There was not just HMV but Virgin, Our Price and several other “chains”. Indies had their own section within major record companies and for one of the largest that department could be maintained so long as the indies’ share of the sales stayed above 12%. At that time indies sold a lot of indie stuff from indie labels so 12% seemed a lot. It transpired that half of these indie sales were not really sales at all but certain indies being sold CDs at a price they could then wholesale them on. It wasn’t too hard to spot as 1,000 CDs of the same title even then going to a fairly small shop clearly wasn’t right. In the end with the indies only really at 5% it wa decided the pretence could go on no longer and things were restructured. 

zavviWhen Virgin were clearly in trouble Branson wanted to distance himself from the shops closing and gave his management team a large financial incentive to take over and rebrand as Zavvi hoping that when the inevitable happened people might have forgotten they had all been Virgins. A year later when the inevitable was about to happen Zavvi blamed their supplier who also supplied the failed Woolworths rather than admit they were about to go under anyway. Nobody questioned why they weren’t being supplied directly from record companies to start with. This is how things have always been but it has never been more important. HMV’s model leads inevitably to continual downsizing and eventual closure while the vinyl revival is the smoke in the smoke and mirrors so often deployed. 

The reason it matters so much is because by the time everybody has to hold their hands up it will be too late. This is not about shops this is about new music. The current model is so skewed towards artists with an established fan base that new music doesn’t stand a chance. Again the music industry can pretend otherwise but people aren’t buying new music and they aren’t going to the gigs either. Yes not all sales are registered and sales are lost but you add in all those things and sales are still dreadful. And no it is not because people are illegally downloading !

It is in just about everybody’s short term interest for things to continue this way so don’t expect any change soon. However do expect to see this blog piece in two or three years time !

One Response to “The State We’re In”

  • Damian:

    Well that seems depressingly realistic. Like a lot of vinyl music buyers (the ones who continued collecting even in the wilderness years of the late 90’s to mid 00’s) I was initially pleased when the record companies started releasing some of their back-catalogues; particularly the releases that were now fetching stupid figures on ebay and discogs.

    However, it wasn’t long before I started to notice that the small labels and independent retailers, who I’d been happily parting with my cash with for many years, started to see their release dates getting pushed back, as the Indie’s got pushed to the side by the Majors using up the pressing plant schedules, to repress records that have been the mainstay of charity shop racks for years (culture club reissues??? who the fuck is buying culture club reissues???) or pressing records that there can’t really be a market for (Justin Bieber’s back catalogue on vinyl actually exists).

    This became very noticeable a few years ago when RSD rapidly (perhaps inevitably) morphed into the beloved/loathed ebay scalpers delight. I was contacted by at least three small labels to advise that there was a delay in release dates and it was specifically tied to the major labels, pushing to get their artists out for RSD. Now most low budget indies either don’t even bother pressing releases around that time, or get them pressed months in advance so they can try to take part in the sham.

    Since then, this has become a repeated theme, and more worryingly there seems to have been something of an unreported crash in 7″ sales. Even in the vinyl deadzone from ’96 – ’07, there was a steady flow of indie vinyl 7″ releases. I could expect to flick through a new stack at Rough trade or browse through the list on Norman Records and select the ones I fancied. This week, I think there are three new 7″ releases listed on Rough Trade.

    And that was just one more canary in the coalmine. The trend appears to be continuing with the death of the 12″ ‘dance’ release. For 30+ years, it was fairly standard practice for a 12″ to have a limited, club release, a buzz would be generated and the main release would follow in fairly short order. But again because of the limited capacity of the pressing plants, these small labels are struggling to get their releases out.

    So once the dust settles on the purchaser as dementia sufferer (plugging the gap in their musical memory with a physical object to prove they once loved this music), and the majors once again leave the market, will the indies still be so keen on vinyl and as importantly will the fans of new music keep faith and hold on, till it becomes our private enclave again.

    And I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought for one second that some of these Major label profits would be used to fund new artists, new music; instead of paying for Abbey Road remastering of a dead record. Spinning wheels to confirms that music is now in a hermetically sealed self-referential bubble of conservatism.

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