When HMV/FOPP was in administration it gave me a glimpse of how things might be. Run by the administrators and only stocking releases they felt were essential all vinyl was deemed unnecessary and Scottish artists such as Rick Redbeard and Conquering Animal Sound weren’t stocked at all. The result for Avalanche was huge sales of the new Biffy Clyro and Frightened Rabbit albums on vinyl and probably an extra 50 sales of the Rick Redbeard album mostly on CD. I could tell they were extra sales as so many of the customers commented on FOPP not having it and interestingly more than half bought other things nearly all local Scottish bands.
Many commented how FOPP was nearer to their work but they would be in more often now they had seen how they had been missing out on local releases. Some did return for Conquering Animal Sound but by late summer when Hilco took over and consignment meant FOPP could stock whatever they wanted without worrying about payment all these “extra” customers had melted away.
I didn’t mind competing with the “old” FOPP as they never got enough stock in of obvious big sellers so would be sold out by Monday and might not get more all week. No matter how big on vinyl an album would be they never took more than 5 copies. We might take 50. These are now changed times and there is no prospect things will get better so we just have to accept this is simply not an area we can apply our limited resources. I’ve had very kind investors offer to help with both location and stock but it simply isn’t possible to compete when the competition isn’t having to pay for stock and in the case of HMV isn’t paying anything like the market rent.
This is really just a preamble to what we hope to do and an explanation for all those who can’t understand why we aren’t doing well “now vinyl has made a comeback”. We stocked new vinyl simply because that was what we did but now vinyl is used as a way to look “cool” a la Urban Outfitters. That as much as 30% of all vinyl bought is never played hints at a large section of buyers who simply “collect” an artist or see buying as an image thing. Old people will shudder to hear that most young people claiming to have a collection of “vinyls” own less than 20 !
So we won’t be opening a shop in Rose Street selling new vinyl so what will we do ?
So today should be the kind of day I wish the shop was already back open with new albums from Morrissey, Honeyblood and Slow Club. Instead it only highlights the problems we would face. In the US the limited Morrissey 10″ EP was available from indies but in the UK things are different. Available exclusively for £6 from HMV and FOPP it also gives you a £3 discount off the new album and for anyone who didn’t have it the recent Morrissey book is £3 too. This price driven approach harks back to the bad old days and is simply unnecessary. With customers polarised these days between fans and those who will be content to listen on Spotify the result is clear.
As with virtually all bands these days should you watch their latest video on YouTube Slow Club will direct you to iTunes, Amazon and their own site for exclusives. No mention of the indies that support them unless you check for their live appearances when they play the obligatory in-store at Rough Trade East and then later in the week at the new RT acquisition Rise in Bristol. You want a signed CD ? That will be an exclusive from their own site I’m afraid.
Never mind long time supporter of Scottish bands Fat Cat have a highly touted album out by Honeyblood and there is a limited clear vinyl their Scottish fans many who have followed them from the start understandably are keen to obtain. Afraid not ! That would be a Rough Trade exclusive.
Now shops tell me what to do is to play the albums in-store and pick up sales from customers who are unaware that they are missing out on a limited version. Many seem reconciled that they will be shafted week after week by artists and labels they have supported and fear saying anything will lose them what crumbs remain.
As I have always tried to get over to people my position is not some stand against labels and bands and it is not about punishing bands by not stocking their album. It is about quite simply giving the customer the best service we can. Nothing highlighted this more than when the House of Love album came out on Cherry Red a while ago and there was an exclusive vinyl with an extra track not available to shops. I could not in all conscience sell the CD to customers I had known for decades in some cases when I knew that they would want the vinyl if they just knew it existed. Shop policy was to tell them that they could get the vinyl directly from the label which many did insisting to a man that they at least bought something else while they were in.
Every shop faces different circumstances and for Avalanche with strong competition from HMV and FOPP for the more casual music fan we have always catered for the very knowledgeable fans of bands and music in general which of course in these days of direct sales is a major flaw in our sales strategy. I do get annoyed when I’m told to accept this is how things are because that is exactly what I do. However in the same way that it is hard to balance streaming’s popularity with decent payments to the artist so it is just as hard for a shop to justify a commitment to new bands, new music and new releases when they are put at such a disadvantage by direct sales.
I do have a plan that may or may not work that will depend on that very strength that our customers are so knowledgeable and at the same time will embrace all the changes we face especially direct sales and streaming. Justifying a physical shop is even harder but as cunning plans go it might just work !
So to clarify I’m not saying that this is a future I would choose I’m saying it is the future I envisage. If you have no wish to own stuff then Spotify is perfect and there is no loss of sales to shops. If artists, labels and record companies sell directly then at the moment their models are flawed.
For “big” artists with a hardcore fan base and a lot of more casual fans then there is no problem. They can “engage” with their keen fans selling them any amount of bundles and then sell to the casual fan via HMV and Amazon. On the other hand though if an artist produces a great album but only has a solid fan base then it will be lost in no time at all as there is simply nobody left out there to buy it.
If you are an established band happy just selling to your fans then a slow decline awaits. If you are an up and coming band happy to just stick with what you’ve managed to achieve with probably a lot of hard work then the “big break” is unlikely. Things don’t have to be like this with even just a level playing field but if if labels and bands always want the jump on shops for sales then they can’t be surprised at what happens. Having said that for some shops there are enough crumbs and they are big enough that they will continue living off scraps pleased they “finally” have a release especially if they have other income streams.
I reckon good shops are so much better at selling directly to artists’ fan bases (and don’t forget shops have their own contacts and mailing lists too) that maybe bands should ask their favourite local shop to do it for them while still embracing the crowd funding / direct-to-fan model. Watch this space !
Avalanche update – Looking for a new home – PledgeMusic, crowdfunding and streaming is the future. iTunes doomed !
I’ll keep this short but you won’t be surprised there is more to come. So what have I learned in our break ? Well while all our various pop-ups/stalls were well received they were hard work especially given how heavy vinyl is to move around. People were very supportive but generally would like us to have a base they can visit every day and therein lies a problem as that isn’t economical most days of the week. Don’t get me wrong I have also discovered that we can do well on Discogs but I don’t intend to have a shop that exists by filling all the quiet times with online sales. A perfectly reasonable strategy but not for me. I’m more than happy to supplement sales online but not to the point that is what keeps the shop open !
There are however other things I could fill my time with while operating a shop and what I have done is break down the various components that make up Avalanche and realised that unsurprisingly there is way too much for one person to cope with even working all the waking hours. More of that later. One thing that is constantly mentioned is what a “loss” is would be should Avalanche not resurface and there has been some recognition of this from Edinburgh Council which may or may not amount to anything.
One key problem is artists think they can do what I do and most can’t. I have no talent for what they do but they see no skill in what I do. Of course our approach in the shop translates through to our social media presence and works there too. For those interested there is a plan. PledgeMusic, crowdfunding platforms and Spotify/streaming in general are the future but not as they are used by bands now cutting out shops completely. I see a future for shops with these models but why anybody would pay for a download is beyond me and the iTunes model is doomed.
I’ll be looking for partners in some areas but for now I’m open to suggestions as to where we locate. Make absolutely no mistake FOPP/HMV are our competition with regards to new stuff. They don’t pay for it so they can stock what they want and if they are nearer to a customer than Avalanche we will normally not get the sale. Maybe we just don’t try to compete and concentrate on other areas. Sister Ray is about to open in a cool hotel and other shops have opened in art centres and eating places. We need low overheads and some footfall to supplement our regular custom. Our base needs to be permanent and ideally I need to have something as soon as possible. I’m not ruling out a stand alone shop in fact I’m actively looking but they are hard to justify. If Edinburgh Council have any buildings as was suggested then …………..
Really sad to have to say that I’ve decided to end our time at Cafe Voltaire at least for now. It is clear people and especially visitors come along for the “Avalanche experience” which I wasn’t able to recreate once we downsized to the current smaller curated space from the original space we occupied. It is certainly something I’d be happy to look at again in the future and I’ve learned a lot from our time there but for now I need to decide on how we move forward.
I’d always intended to look at the viability of a new shop and location after the Festival so I have just had to bring that discussion forward. And a discussion it is as things are by no means simple. What is clear from speaking to people and emails I’ve received is that people come to the shop to have a chat, hear about what is new and discuss what has been said on our social media platforms. Visitors had expressed disappointment in emails that I hadn’t been about !
Certainly our large stall at the Platform 2 market at Waverley station worked well with its focus on new vinyl and Scottish bands and there was still time to talk to everyone ! There was a young girl from Russia buying new vinyl and the Young Marble Giants CD I recommended on the back of The xx and a guy from Houston, Texas who remembered TV21 and I was able to tell him how good their new album is as well. After chatting he went on to buy two Twilight Sad CDs and the latest There Will Be Fireworks album. Sadly even adding in some second hand vinyl and poster sales this sort of business is not enough to sustain a high street shop something Edinburgh council have finally recognised
I’m open to all ideas and locations. It is by no means a given that we will stay in Edinburgh. Ideally we will have a shop and still be able to do things like Platform 2. More to come.
Hipsters demand record shop closes – “Is it because we didn’t have that Bright Eyes Christmas album or because we don’t have a bike rack ?” – very funny cartoon.
Our first appearance at the new Platform 2 market at Waverley station will focus on the things Avalanche is best known for so a wide selection of new indie vinyl, releases from dozens of local bands and a fantastic selection of posters of all sizes. There will of course still be a great selection of second hand vinyl both albums and 7″ singles and come July we will have a better idea as to the direction a new space like this should take. Managing our space in Cafe Voltaire has been a steep learning curve and helped enormously in planning for this new venture.
Avalanche is always trying to move forward in what are testing times for all those in the music industry and as I’ve often said the bottom line for all concerned is people need to spend money on music or things can not continue as we know them. At the same time I’m very well aware of how virtually all music is now available at little or no cost at all.
Luckily you can’t download a large Frightened Rabbit fly poster or replace the sound and physicality of vinyl so it is by no means a lost cause ! Add in the opportunity to browse lots of other stalls and grab something tasty to eat and hopefully the market will become a destination to more than those on the way to catch a train. Open from 11am to 7pm so plenty of time to pop along.
I’ve got in a lot of new indie vinyl especially for the launch so believe me you will be stuck for choice ! We will have the new CD from Avalanche favourites Broken Records for those of you who haven’t picked up a copy yet and I can highly recommend the new album from Hamish James Hawk which reminds me of Magnetic Fields and Belle and Sebastian at their best.
Must say I’m looking forward to this a lot
Time away from running the shop just about every waking hour has given me the time to think I was looking for. However I wasn’t just interested in market stalls, pop-up shops and curated spaces but also all the options available to artists these days when trying to firstly reach the public with their music and then monetise this music. You will see the word monetise a lot ! It is a lot more complicated than simply selling your LP or CD these days and the irony is that artists often weren’t even well equipped to do just that.
Even though at the coalface I was still well aware I didn’t understand “the big picture” fully. The many industry experts I hear talking blatant rubbish do nothing but cause damage yet if enough of them repeat the same lie ………………….
I really wasn’t sure if there was a theory of everything that involved shops in any meaningful way. I was quite prepared to accept that all the developments meant that shops had become an irrelevance good for nothing except selling Bowie picture discs, second hand vinyl and if lucky, tickets.
For all the twitter talk the Specialists (mainly HMV and Amazon) outsold the indies almost 9 to 1 on this week’s Cerebral Ballzy album and that is before we get to exactly what the sales figures were. The entire profit from that album would barely pay one senior member of staff in one shop. Indies sold 1.6% of the new Lana Del Rey album and that is doing well. 1% is more common for a really big selling album.
Don’t get me wrong there are shops out there doing well just not many. My interest is whether there is any possible way forward for a shop that wants to support and actually sell new music rather than depend on other revenue streams and Led Zeppelin reissues. And even if there is a way forward does that opportunity exist in Edinburgh.
Anyway I’m almost there and the answers have surprised me. I certainly couldn’t be accused of coming up with the results I expected. Sad that I am I found the whole interaction between crowdfunding and streaming/Spotify and bandcamp fascinating and there is without doubt merit in all these platforms but they are not without their weaknesses and coincidentally , or maybe not, they were often a shop’s strengths.
So a “theory of everything” that involves artists, labels, distribution, record companies, shops, online selling, bandcamp, streaming and crowdfunding. Not aiming too high then ! More Higgs boson than Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The two big sellers of the year battling it out at the top !
1. Withered Hand – New Gods
2. Mogwai – Rave Tapes
3. PAWS – Youth Culture Forever
4. Broken Records – Weights and Pulleys
5. Jack White – Lazaretto
6. Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes
7. Hamish James Hawk – Aznavour
8. Temples – Sun Structure
9. Warpaint – Warpaint
10. Young Fathers – Dead
11. Swans – To Be Kind
12. Phantom Band – Strange Friend
13. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
14. Beck – Morning Phase
15. Eels - The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett
16. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
17. Bwani Junction – Tongue Of Bombie
18. Damien Jurado – Brothers + Sisters of Eternal Son
19. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
20. The Black Keys – Turn Blue
Good to see a new Scottish artist can still sell well when we get behind a release with Hamish James Hawk at number 7 but generally there are no big surprises with established Scottish bands doing well followed by the “indie” big boys.
As many of you will know Avalanche launched at Cafe Voltaire to coincide with their new opening hours and menu. However as some of you have commented there seems to have been a distinct lack of food ! Fear not the plans for food have not changed but have been delayed due to the classic “circumstances beyond our control”, Cafe Vol with have its own kitchen but therein lies the delay.
Consequently until everything is up and running the Cafe Vol staff will look after the shop leaving me free to deal with other stuff including the new Platform 2 market at Waverley station. You will still be able to pick up the new Broken Records CD, look through our promo posters and browse through the vinyl of course.
Depending on the timing we will reassess when the full menu is available. There would have been a rejig for the Festival anyway so it may be that that will coincide. I will of course keep customers informed as to what is available and orders will be able to be collected too. My thanks to the Cafe Vol staff and management for being so accommodating.