Wednesday 23 April 2014

Record Store Day – winners and losers

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s been even more grumbling about Record Store Day this year than in previous years. It’s easy to see why if you just look at the hysterical grab for the limited edition releases by heritage acts. But the economics and politics of Record Store Day are more complex than that. Let’s look at the big talking points and find some reason in this madness.

It’s not indie
It’s not meant to be. You’ve got the Independent Label Market for that. You’ll most likely have been in a record shop the week before if you’re that indie. I was the day before RSD. I go to buy things I don’t know I want as much as for what I know I want.

On Friday last week I got a copy of I Never Knew by The Avocados. A box of unplayed copies of this 1981 single turned up. £10, thank you very much – it normally trades second hand for £30. I got a 7” in the post the first day after the bank holiday weekend. You’d struggle to find that record in any shop.

No one goes to a record shop on RSD for something they don’t know about. You know the score.

Ebay mark ups
A lot of RSD stock immediately goes up on ebay. Of course it does. I’m not certain who these “ebay touts” that people talk about are. They might be the unemployed, low-waged or students – people who can’t get a job but have found an easy way to make a quick buck. Fine. I’m not going to queue outside Sister Ray from 3am.

Shops don’t care about touts
They’re not meant to. They’re allowed to sell one copy of each record to any customer and they can’t reserve records. I’ve not heard reports of anything different happening.

Major labels don’t care about touts
Don’t be so naïve. You know all those posters for new releases and gigs you see in London? Criminal gangs operate that trade. There’s more than one gang. Each controls its patch. I don’t know how the labels account for that, but maybe it's fruit and flowers.

You know never to argue with ticket touts, right? Good, because some of those touts are part of criminal gangs. You really don’t want to get on the wrong side of them.

Touts don’t care about music
I think some of them do. You remember 8 to 10 years ago when there were so many good indie releases in limited runs coming from the USA? A lot of people bought 2 copies – 1 for themselves and the other to flip on ebay at least twice the price, so they basically got their record for nothing.

You can’t blame the labels for not policing that – it would’ve been impossible. But you can blame their lack of ambition in pressing 500 copies when they could’ve sold 1,000. Yeah, I know about ‘buzz’ and ‘marketing’ but, really, sell more records to fans and forget about the intro to your next press release.

RSD releases were on ebay the day before RSD
I noticed that, too. That won’t be the shop owners, it’ll be the odd member of staff. I used to work in one of those RSD shops (before RSD started). The pay was less than the minimum wage. You’d take the occasional record or two as a perk of the job. The boss knew about this. He’d done the same before he opened his own shop.

You know who also might be selling RSD stock on ebay early? Label staff. Their wages aren’t always that good, I understand. I draw no conclusions on their moral fibre based on the labels they work for.

They’re too expensive
Yep, they are. But the mark up isn’t as extravagant as you might think – the labels are selling them to shops at a high dealer price. Introducing a sale or return policy might make the labels think a bit harder about what they release and their wholesale price.

There are too many RSD releases
Agreed. What started as windfall for record shops is now a cash cow for labels. I shouldn’t begrudge one of my all-time favourite labels, Flying Nun, for this as I know they need the money, but £20 for the Bored Games ep was a bit high. It’s still widely available at RSD shops. As was the £17 Snapper ep last year for a few months after RSD. Oh, £37 for the Dunedin Double? Really?

Plant delays
The Fear Of Men flexi disc (£5) was due out on April 7. It’s still not out because of RSD. The flexi track, Luna, is on the new album, which was itself released on red vinyl for RSD. Or on black vinyl if you, like me, pre-ordered it at the start of February as part of immediately buying the new album by a band you love.

Maybe some of the UK vinyl pressing plants could increase their capacity. I hear there are people looking for work. Or maybe every label shouldn't go to the same plant in the Czech Republic.

It’s Christmas twice a year
A friend in the pub on Sunday suggested RSD is now like the UK car registration system, which sees a massive peak in purchases when the new registration number is introduced. The registration system is since 1999 twice yearly to spread the motor trade’s business more evenly.

RSD means that there are 2 peaks to record shops’ trade. Yes, a record is not just for Christmas, it’s for Record Store Day, too.

I’ll never be able to find or afford the record I really want
Relax, in most cases you’ll get it. The hysteria passes into low-level madness after the first 24 hours; by the end of the week, records will settle at their true value.

I really wanted the Mazzy Star single. I’m confident I’ll get it for its RSD price of £8. Don’t buy (literally) into some buyers’ panic. The last Mazzy Star single, Seasons Of Your Day/Sparrow (two tracks from last year’s album), was released 6 months ago through Rough Trade shops only ("this will sell out on pre-sale"?!). There are just 300 copies of those. There were at least 20 in the racks on Friday in Rough Trade at £3.99. Same price on their website.

Yet some people have paid way over that – up to £25 online, even though it was available for £3.99 on Rough Trade's site. There are 3,000 copies - 10 times more - of this Mazzy Star RSD release. So you can see why I’m not panicking. Neither should you.

UPDATE: I got a copy of the Mazzy Star single exactly one week after RSD, for £7.

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