Thursday, 19 April 2018

The great vinyl rip off

No week passes when indie labels don’t release albums on both vinyl and limited vinyl runs. This itself isn’t new - in the 1980s Creation, for example, released albums by bands such as My Bloody Valentine and The House of Love with a free 7” single.

These pressings sold out in a week. Their purpose was improved chart positions and to make the weekly music press and national radio aware that there was demand, even excitement, around their acts.

In 2018 when charts don’t matter and there’s no weekly music press it’s a much more cynical affair.

I understand that some of the smaller indies do this because then they can sell more by mail order, giving them a greater profit than selling to shops through a distributor (or maybe more realistically a better chance of breaking even). I'm cool with that, but many of the bigger labels are quite ruthless.

For for the bigger labels, the vinyl cash cow frustrates the artists as much as the fans. Last year Tracey Thorn said last year that “the comeback of vinyl is an absolute pain in the arse when you're making a record. Grrr.”

Her album Sister released this year? Well, it might have been released last year: “You could hear it an AWFUL lot sooner if it wasn't for the MASSIVE time delay caused nowadays by vinyl pressing.”

We’re in the position where vinyl sales make the tills ring because they’re sold at such exorbitant mark ups. Record companies need vinyl more than musicians or fans because it’s the only way for many of them to make a profit. So much so, they dictate an album's release date.

No wonder when you consider that YouTube is the biggest source of music in the world, playing billions of tracks annually, but in 2015 musicians earned less from it and from its ad-supported rivals than they earned from sales of vinyl.

The market for these vinyl releases is people with a lot of disposable cash. Labels know they don't have to wait for Record Store Day (or Black Friday or Christmas) to fleece punters. Let’s look at some recent examples:

Whyte Horses - Empty Words
Limited edition, signed and numbered double vinyl + download £20.99
Limited edition, signed and numbered double vinyl £18.99
Double vinyl £17.99

Comment: £2 for a download code? This is the future. At least half of the new albums I’ve bought this year haven’t had a download. We’ll have to pay for them all in the future because labels want us to stream on Spotify as well for more royalties, however small they may be.

Tracyanne & danny
Indies - only, colour vinyl with bonus 7" £24.99
Standard £18.99

Comment: the free 7” is no longer free. It’s an extra £6.

Eels - The Deconstruction
2 x 10” translucent yellow vinyl £25.99
Box set £52.99

  • 2 x 12” translucent pink vinyl in printed sleeves.
  • Printed box on uncoated paper
  • CD digipack
  • 28 page perfect bound lyric booklet with exclusive photos
  • 12” artwork print
  • A4 digital handwritten “rusty pipes” lyrics signed by e
  • E “tip & strip” pen

Comment: FFS, this is really taking the piss. I don’t know what a “tip & strip” pen is, but it sounds like the sort of promotional thing magazines used to give away to promote an album when record companies had millions floating around from CD sales.

Gatefold 180 gram vinyl LP + insert in luminous sleeve + MP3 download code 23.25
Gatefold 180 gram vinyl LP + 4 page booklet + MP3 download code)18.75

Comment: Luminous print must be pretty expensive and you don’t even get the booklet. This release’s poster campaign didn’t mention any of this. It said only: “THE DEBUT ALBUM NOW STREAMING ON SPOTIFY.”

Yo La Tengo - There's A Riot Going On
Limited orange vinyl 2xLP £19.50
2xLP £19.50

Comment: The only instance this year I’ve seen where both versions are the same price, although in some shops the limited limited is £2 more. A month after release, both versions are very much still available.

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