RECORD STORE DAY has caused a number of conflicting feelings for me over the past few years. As a long time record store employee, I couldn’t argue with the bump in sales for the shops themselves. It was like Christmas for an ailing industry. The bills don’t care whose records were sold to pay them, only that they must be paid for the shops to stay open.
As a record store customer, my interests were not catered to very much by the Record Store Day special releases so my participation was generally limited to just hanging out and buying a couple records from the usual stock.
As a label owner, I was into the idea of trying to repurpose Record Store Day to our advantage. We produced special limited edition records that went through our usual distribution channels, not the special Record Store Day list, that were meant to capitalize on the whole concept while hopefully giving the indie House/Techno/Disco customer like myself something to look out for on that day.
Now the problems of having the entire execution of Record Store Day dictated by a single group are clearly outweighing any advantage most indie labels could have ever hoped to get from it, especially for smaller niche labels like most House Music releases. As has been covered here before, the delays at pressing plants all over are becoming insane around this time due to the volume of RSD-sanctioned special releases. The process of pressing a record is already normally fraught with delays and potential hiccups, but this is holding up release schedules by months and months beyond what is normal.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″] You receive calls all day from people trying to find whatever dad rock special edition repress they couldn’t locate yet. If you’re lucky enough to have it, this will be the ONLY TIME you ever see this person walk through the door. [/quote]
Additionally, the stock and availability of these Record Store Day special releases is spotty at best, and – for the smaller stores that can’t demand the “hot” releases especially – ends up a random smattering of random music. Some of it sells quickly, but some of it I know is still sitting on shelves from last year because I see it there on my weekly trips to record stores. My experience working at record stores on Record Store Day means I know firsthand how this works. You receive calls all day from people trying to find whatever dad rock special edition repress they couldn’t locate yet. If you’re lucky enough to have it, this will be the ONLY TIME you ever see this person walk through the door.
I understand that record stores and pressing plants are not exactly financially lucrative for the most part, no matter how many “VINYL RECORDS ARE BACK!” headlines you see in mainstream news publications. But the trade off they are making is essentially boiling down to this: one day sales of big label records to one time customers in order to get a chunk of money at once in exchange for smaller number of sales of indie labels over a long period of time to regular customers. As the saying goes, money talks and the record stores and pressing plants need money so this decision is actually not much of a real decision.
The long term effects of this are not yet known, however. These small labels whose releases make up the majority of the records pressed and the stock in record stores will now just have fewer releases out in a given year because there is now a few months gap where nothing happens. If their profit margin per release is not very big (as I would guess it is not for most labels doing small pressings), this limits the labels that keep vinyl alive 365 days a year in a drastic way.
Is it drastic enough to make some smaller labels consider moving to digital only sales? None that I am aware of thus far have said this, but I can’t imagine that it won’t happen in the near future if Record Store Day continues down this path.
Since Record Store Day must be so lucrative for these major labels, why don’t they do something proactive to actually help record stores and labels all the time? They could easily afford to refurbish old pressing machines and use them to increase overall capacity year round, especially in the days leading up to their corporate holiday. This would reduce the wait to press records all the time, with the additional effect of generating more income, as labels pay to have their records pressed all year. New machines could even be commissioned and built, which would help records continue to exist for far longer into the future than they currently will by relying only on machines that are only getting older and more difficult to repair.
As it is, we are forced to assume the worst case scenario: that Record Store Day is nothing but a money grab by major labels at the expense of indie labels who support the medium and shops all the time.