Disc jockeying: Should HMV be allowed to take part in Record Store Day? So asked a Music Week article the other day.
I had expected HMV to be taken over by a faceless corporation that would close a few unprofitable stores, renegotiate rents by threatening to close shops and borrow some money while siphoning off cash to another company while waiting for HMV to go bust again and then blame “downloads”. See the HMV Money-go-round post. You know, the usual way of working. However, the new owner does have a face and it seems that he will try to run the business the proper way, trying to make a profit and sell lots of music, get involved in the local scene and so on. That is a good thing as pensions will hopefully get paid and HMV will keep on keepin’ on for a while to come.
It was a weird interview in Music Week. He said; “Often we get asked, ‘Are you killing the indies?’ Of course not. You’re not going to be able to kill an indie that knows their customer, that gives that great service. We’re actually a benefit because we’re able to commit to some of the quantities on these albums that maybe would never get pressed without an HMV. That’s the critical piece to think about.”
The last part is absolutely correct and that is also why Record Store Day works -By lots of small shops coming together it makes it worthwhile for labels to make records. It is worth remembering that RSD was a response to the difficulties small shops were having. It was Custer’s last stand in the face of so many record shop closures with Native Americans downloading… Well that analogy doesn’t really work but the shops working together (and HMV selling records again) have helped power the vinyl revival.
Record Store Day done right can pay a shop’s rent for a year. Done badly it could put you out of business. Your profit can be tied up in the records that you don’t sell and that stock is not returnable. We already have a slightly uneven playing field when it comes to RSD. If you don’t order a lot of records from a major distributor over the year, then they just won’t allocate you many RSD exclusives. This means that big London shops will still have Bowie records into the following week whereas small shops will be sold out in a few minutes.
That is not a complaint as I understand why shops that support the major labels deserve support themselves in return. I will argue though, that in terms of servicing the fans it doesn’t make too much sense. For example, if there is only one small shop covering a large population and that shop doesn’t spend a lot on Bowie through the year, I think they should still be given a decent allocation to supply the local fans. And there are not quite enough of some RSD records to go around and a city like Edinburgh may not have that many Bowie RSD records for a population of about half a million. When talking about RSD numbers a friend once said 500 Bowie fans die every day -don’t quote me as he made the number up (do I even have to say that?) Anyway, Bowie is a popular guy.
So based on current practise, HMV would be able to get the lion’s share of major label RSD releases based on its buying power over the year. That would seem fair to them but it takes away the from fact that RSD was designed to support the small shops that were at risk of closure due to aggressive discounting from supermarkets and large chains. These big businesses that are run by accountants, not people.
The new owner of HMV, Doug Putman, does not actually, seriously think that his MASSIVE CHAIN will be allowed to take part in Record Store Day in its current form so I wonder what he is playing at. He has not even officially asked yet but I recall a vote a few years ago among the record shops on whether the HMV owned Fopp should be allowed to take part. The answer was a comprehensive no. He knows what the answer will be if he asks the question so the interview is a wee bit strange and that horrible joined-word passive-aggressive. Is he to be the Teresa-May of negotiators or a cunning-fox of a man? From what I can see he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or perhaps just a likeable sheep in an undercover policeman’s clothing. It is hard to tell but something is up if you go out to buy a new hooded top to do an interview right? Perhaps Channel 4 are bringing back Undercover Boss.
I think that the title of the Music Week piece says it all -He is probably jockeying for position in the vinyl marketplace. I am not sure a man wearing a new hoodie over an AC/DC T-Shirt surrounded by Smiths and Liam Gallagher is prepared for the future. He has certainly taken bad advice and may even have advisors that use Beverley Hills Cop (1984) as a point of reference for getting down with the kids.
There is a ruthlessness in some large companies and those that run them and they employ marketing people and graphic designers who can make nice marketing posters. I worry about their business model. If all is rosy with HMV finances, why would they want to muscle in on a loose collection of shops? A mole tells me that they are planning to target geographical areas with indie shops that are doing well but that may just be gossip -from an ex HMV manager. It isn’t something that troubles me especially and I’ve no idea why this blog post is so long… He doth protest too much? But we don’t really even try to compete with HMV.
Competing in the record market isn’t really the right term for a little shop like VoxBox. We are just bystanders as Godzilla fights King Kong for market share as an injured King Kong looks to punch down on us plebs who can barely work basic editing software.
For those interested in numbers… A current HMV deal is for £12.99 reissues of Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Amy Winehouse records. They cost us £10 to buy in and selling at £13 makes it hardly worth opening the boxes. Stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap. Roll up roll up! It is good to give punters a bargain for sure as a lot of new vinyl is prohibitively expensive for the young in particular. I remember FOPP selling the Led Zeppelin albums on CD for £5 when I was a youngster. Beatles were £10. Somehow, I got in to Led Zeppelin.
HMV is a really strange business as far as any kind of retail is concerned. You can’t sustain a massive shop on profits of £3 per item sold (perhaps they even make a fiver) -Which is why they sell toys and T shirts. They’ve done this since before they went bust the 1st time in 2013. I bought a Mr Stay Puft T-shirt for £4 as a weird memento. And what the heck are these “Pop Vinyl” things?
Back in my day Pop Vinyl was Manfred Man on His Master’s Voice. The pedantic may note that I look too young for this to be true and they are correct.
Most shops on the high street can exist because they sell items with a high mark up or don’t pay tax. Look at Lush –it is just soap with some bits of fruit thrown in. £7 a bar. Now that’s a margin! Primark, M&S and the clothes shops importing from China and Bangladesh. Boots and Topshop –don’t pay much tax. There are over 10 mobile phone shops on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, each a relatively small place selling £200 a year contracts. The megastore model is difficult to sustain simply because of the overheads. To rent a massive shop on Princes Street costs around £250 000 a year, council tax is about the same. You need to sell 100,000 records at £5 profit per unit. (274 records per day). Then pay for your staff, pensions, rent, heating and cocaine. -The folk in charge are still living in the 1990s. I could be wrong -Have a look outside HMV and count the number of folk coming out with bags and let me know.
I would do it myself, but I’m way too busy just now. 🙂
We have a special Record Store Day event planned this year as always and with a deep breath I* get through the list, get the orders in, the posters made, the artists booked, the PA and sound engineer, the boxes opened and the cardboard recycled as well as the extra staff. It is exciting and nerve wrecking to organise even this – our 8th Record Store Day as the records are different and we have hired the church at the end of our street for the event this time!
It is lovely to think about the other wee record shops that take part, the new shops and the others that are tucked down side streets. These owners will be experiencing the pressure, the terror of the money spent and eventual euphoria of seeing even a small queue. For one -just one day of the year – your shop, your vision of how a record shop should be, your pride and joy. An extension of your soul if being dramatic… -For one day you might feature not in Music Week, but if you are lucky, in a piece in the local paper.
And someone might comment somewhere “Aye, that’s a good shop!”. Record Store Day is a pat on the back and a wink that lets us know that we are appreciated in our work and everybody needs that once in a while.
Andrew Wasylyk is also playing.
PS RSD isn’t really about the shops, it’s about the bands.
*Our RSD party/line-up is always co-organised by Andy from local micro-label Gerry Loves Records. Which reminds me, I need to buy a new T-shirt and do some sit ups.