About what you'd expect.
Record Store Day
After posting a rant about RSD on Facebook for the last few years, I figured it was time to give it a permanent home.
I love(d) record stores and record store culture. But I’m not foolish enough to believe record stores (at least as we’ve known them for the last 40 years or so) are going to survive without radically reinventing themselves into something almost completely different.
As much as I love a good record store, I abhor record store day, or at least what it has become.
Maybe there are a few (very few) worthwhile releases (that could easily come out any other day) but the "event" is now nothing more than an exercise is separating aging music fans from their cash by offering overpriced, unnecessary format tweaks of beloved music THEY ALREADY OWN.
RSD was inspired by Free Comic Book Day –where comic book publishers & stores GIVE AWAY specially made exclusive comics for FREE to promote the art form. FCBD was conceived to expose new readers to the wide variety of comics being published. The comic book industry is far smaller than the music biz, and is supported by almost exclusively mom & pop stores. About 1/3 of the "industry" is indie publishers who contribute the bulk of the comics. This has proven a success – not only has the number of comic book stores grown over the last few years, but the amount of publishers and comics being sold has steadily grown with them.
I see almost zero effort to promote new music on RSD, but I see plenty of $10 classic rock 7" singles. How is that anything but vultures feeding off a corpse?
RSD is 99% vinyl reissues - stuff people already have. Despite what you may have read, the current “surge” in vinyl is not the salvation of the record store – sure, vinyl is selling at multiples of what it did in 2005, but 10 times nothing is still nothing. The cost of manufacturing vinyl is high, no new plants are opening, vinyl DOESN’T sound better than a properly mastered CD and the whole thing is just a fad. Larger sized vinyl packages are nice, but the format degrades every time it’s played.
Record Store Day is about selling old records to balding Mojo readers - already record store customers - who already own the music on those records; or to “flippers” who re-sell the product on eBay or similar, it’s not about music.
Like Beanie Baby collectors before them, one day all these vinyl collectors are going to want to unload their purchases and the valuations of these phony collectibles will go away forever.
Sadly, this was not always the case. Record Store Day was initially about DISCOVERY, just like FCBD.
But, like their handling of the internet, iTunes and streaming services, the music industry took the short term view and screwed it all up.
At first RSD was a bounty of free stuff – label samplers, posters, etc that were designed to get potential customers in the door – maybe they’d buy something during their visit, maybe they’d go home with a sampler that would lead them to discover a new artist they loved – and lead to more sales and more excitement about new music.
Then the tide turned and the labels started to phase out the idea of discovery and turned to full-on exploitation. They sell exclusive, limited product to record stores –and these aren’t limited-release records by new artists, they’re known quantities. Sure, maybe RSD releases are sprinkled with a couple new 12”ers from forthcoming band reunion records (not a bad idea if you used to release music when people bought it), and there have been a few very clever packages (like Omnivore’s stunning Big Star Third test pressing reproduction), but even these are designed to appeal to older music fans, not new ones.
In other words, labels have largely written off RSD as a means of discovery, or even a tool to help perpetuate their species. Instead they’re milking a corpse, catering to graying record collectors instead of trying to use the day to develop new acts.
And there’s more negative buzz about RSD every year. Part of this stems from bitter collectors who can’t get their hands on certain RSD items, but one of the most widespread stories this year came from a UK label complaining they couldn’t get manufacturing for 300 vinyl LPs of one of their new artists. Their claim is that the majors are hogging all the manufacturing. Well, that’s probably true and it’s unfortunate, but if 300 LPs are meaningful to your label or artist’s future, that just goes to show how low the industry has sunken.
Imagine the level of exposure new artists might get if there was a CD sampler with a Taylor Swift outtake that you couldn’t get elsewhere – and it was sold for a dollar, only on Record Store Day. Then you’ve got exposure, fans at the stores and a far better news story than “paunchy guys in line at 5am to buy Led Zeppelin 7” pic disc.” Let’s face it, anyone can sell a few thousand Bowie reconfigurations because there are thousands of hardcore Bowie collectors. This is not rocket science. It’s barely effort.
Supposedly the RSD is “Christmas 2” for record stores and if the proceeds help them stay in business, that’s a plus – but it’s a pretty shaky way to do so.
Record stores need to morph – possibly into pop culture stores that sell not only physical media but massive amounts of physical “collectibles” related to films, music, comics, etc.
New England-based chain Newbury Comics is doing something like this, but with a larger focus on clothing, because, I assume, the markup is better.
Precisely because of that, stores like this could have collectibles experts who can buy, valuate and sell rarities and collections that may be sold to the stores by their customers. This creates a high markup opportunity not afforded by the current level of high-competition pricing in the physical media world.
I’m not sure this model is the answer, but it’s a better idea than doing the same old shit day after day as the marketplace contracts. Stop fiddling! Can’t you see Rome is burning?
RSD today feels like little more than a "please donate" beggars cup designed to keep a terminal patient on life support for another year (or worse, a feeding frenzy for record scalpers).
Good luck to all record stores, remember that you're not museum souvenir gift shops okay?