Record Store Day logo

Record Store Day, a biannual event in which labels release limited edition product exclusively to independent record shops, is supposed to be a guaranteed win for the shops. It definitely succeeds in driving business; when I interviewed a local record store owner for Columbus Alive last year, he said the event basically keeps his doors open. But apparently there are ways Record Store Day can burn a business too. A new blog post by Washington, D.C. NPR affiliate WAMU 88.5 raises the question of whether Record Store Day benefits labels more than the mom-and-pop shops it’s designed to serve. With a whopping 438 releases on tap for this year’s first Record Store Day observance on 4/19 (the second is Black Friday), WAMU wonders if shop owners can afford to order so much product and whether prices for RSD releases have gotten too expensive. The story paints a picture of a catch-22 in which stores feel like they have to order as much RSD stock as possible to keep up but risk ending up with lots of leftovers depreciating on their shelves. Here’s an excerpt:

“It’s out of control,” says Neal Becton, who owns D.C. shop Som Records. Some business owners say Record Store Day records are too expensive and too numerous, and stores risk losing a lot of money on records that don’t sell.

This wasn’t how Record Store Day was supposed to be. The twice-annual event, which takes place April 19 this year and on Black Friday, was started to help support record shops. It makes special records exclusively available to independent brick-and-mortar stores to drum up business, and it’s been quite a hit, at least judging from the lines that form outside of stores on the big day.

But in a Washington Post story about the event last year, Red Onion Records owner Josh Harkavy was quoted as calling the event “Record Label Day” because of a perception that labels are its true beneficiaries. That sentiment hasn’t changed. Crooked Beat shop owner Bill Daly says some of the vinyl slabs are so costly, no one is buying. “Customers balk at a certain price,” he says. He cites a 2013 Nick Drake release that, at nearly $40 retail, barely moved from his shelves—even though Drake is a reliable seller at his store. “It stiffed, basically,” Daly says. He bought 40 copies at $27 a pop, and still has two dozen left.

Read the full story here. What do you guys think? Are shop owners right to be concerned, or is this just a matter of knowing your customers and making smart business decisions?

Comments (26)
  1. I don’t know, but my local record shop better have at least one of those 500 Fear of Men limited editions, or else I’m going to be pissed.

  2. I think the problem is the prices. RSD should be about rare releases, but it makes no sense for the prices to be so high.

  3. Sounds to me like this is more of a store management issue than an actual RSD issue. From the same article:
    “But Daly is a heavy buyer—last year, he claimed to have purchased more RSD vinyl than any shop on the East Coast—and as the Record Store Day list grows, he becomes more worried.”

    Can you really credibly boast about buying more stock than anyone else and then wonder why you maybe have some left over?

    • Yeah this is true, though I can see both sides of it. On the one hand, if the guy is aware that prices are too high to sell a lot of certain records, why doesn’t he just buy less of those records? I know this will deplete his revenue, but might help with the net income he ends up with. On the other hand, if all the records are too highly priced then this becomes an issue for the records stores when nobody wants to drop $35 on some reissue of an album that would normally cost $20.

    • Absolutely! That’s the reason most businesses fail – the people running them have no idea what they’re doing.

  4. It’s the only time of the year that I hear the words “Record” and “Store” together, so it can’t be all bad.

  5. While I buy records (mostly 7″ singles, EPs and only releases I can’t get on a different physical format) I’m not a collector, so a reissue of an album I already have on CD or cassette for twice the cost of a regular release does nothing to goad me out. I also live in suburbia, with the nearest independent record store being a 25 minute trip away, and even then, they never seem to stock the good stuff, so it’s a music lover’s holiday lost on me.

  6. Isn’t this just what retail is?

  7. I don’t really feel bad for the guy here. They don’t have to order everything, not nearly. My favorite local shop only got a handful of things last time. Buy what you’re confident in, perhaps throw in a couple wild card items, and call it a day.

  8. Dude, I don’t know. At my local record shop, prices tend to be higher than those at Amoeba or another record shop about 45 minutes away. I don’t know if my record sell the releases like that because they can (they are the only record shop in the valley) or if it’s for some other reason.

    Anyways, they already placed their orders for RSD and so I think I’ll miss out on ordering what I want to get from them. Boooo…..

  9. I want to like RSD-I really do-but it’s too much like trying to win the lottery. I went to my favorite small shop-Soundgarden in Baltimore-and waited 2 hours to get in (I got there an hour early) . I got a few things but was really turned off with the people in line saying they couldn’t wait to ebay the things they got. With so many of these ‘exclusives’ coming to retail (and file sharing sites) sooner or later what’s the incentive? Obviously the labels love it because they get to move some vinyl at super high prices, and the stores love it for that one day they get traffic, but as a consumer, the hit-or-miss will-they-or won’t they get an overpriced title isn’t worth it to me anymore.

  10. The problem to me is that each year the records get less and less rare. It’s become a day to rebuy records you already have in a new limited edition vinyl format, and I have no interest in that at all. When it’s a chance to get a limited edition Malkmus covers Can record, or some unreleased bootleg of a VU show or something, it’s exciting, just like finding a genuine bootleg in the pre-internet record collecting world, and Im willing to pay a high price, but that seems to be less and less the case.

  11. This is precisely why Vinyl Junkies founded Record SWAP Day. Occuring the third Friday of every April, the day before RSD. No sales, just swaps.

    http://www.recordswapday.info

  12. The people making points about reissued vinyls are good points. I was scrolling through this year’s list and had to do a double take when I saw MGMT’s first two records on vinyl. Huh? All three of their records were behind the MGMT tab last time I was at my record store. So now they’re likely gonna end up with 5 more copies of Congratulations that everyone in my area likely already owns that wants it.

    So from that perspective I can see how that could hurt record stores. Bands trying to capitalize on RSD by simply putting out the same album again. I feel it’s kind of whack to have a “Record Store Day” release be a record that already exists/existed on vinyl.

    I thought the whole point of RSD initially was rare and special releases designed just for RSD. Like, imagine if Frank Ocean decided to release “channel ORANGE” as an official vinyl release? That would SURELY drum up sales (although a little late… anyone interested probably has a bootleg already. me included).

    Personally, I called up my record store while reading this article. I was panicking at the idea that they wouldn’t get any copies of The Field’s “From Here We Go Sublime” since it’s the first time to ever be released on vinyl. I’d camp out for that release. Hell, I’d punch a baby without hesitation for that release. I think it’s releases that garner that kind of reaction that RSD needs to focus on. Baby punching releases…

    2016 Stereogum Headline:
    “Is Record Store Day Bad For Babies?”

    • How does that Frank Ocean bootleg sound? I’m tempted to buy it, but, you know. Bootleg.

      • Yeah, I remember reading an article somewhere (here?) where they were talking about Frank Ocean designing the artwork for the vinyl release. What the hell ever happened with that?

      • Oh it sounds perfectly fine. It’s just the packaging is lower quality. I mean, that album cover isn’t anything complicated, but you can tell by the tracklisting on the back that it’s bootleg (Also the lack of a Def Jam logo anywhere).

        My Yeezus bootleg, however, has a skip on Bound 2. That was a bummer, but it was a bday gift so, meh.

  13. Why not just order a small supply of the RSD releases, and when they’re gone, they’re gone?

    • A lot of the releases actually are in short supply, and when that is the case, some jerks in a few cities sleep outside of the record stores (no joke) and resell them for ridiculous prices on Ebay. This happened last year with Double Dagger’s final release, the 333 EP.

  14. So like most things in history, Record Store Day was cool then folks/companies figured out they could make even more money on it than they first thought and now it’s not cool anymore.

    Glad I wasn’t high in ALL my high school econ classes…. Or else I’d be stuck in line for a few hours for the chance to donate $120 to James Murphy’s retirement fund (again).

  15. The RSD thing was started by some cool retail guys but it has absolutely become something the labels exploit and Ebay fiends make money off of. At least half of the 180 LP’s are way overpriced. Some stores even charge 60 dollars plus for one album. And most indie stores can’t return the vinyl if it doesn’t sell either. You’re stuck with it. The distributors will take back the CD’s. So you can’t blame them for not carrying a lot of these specialized items.

  16. £16 for the Pink Floyd 7″ last year!

  17. In the first place, Record Store Day only takes place one day per year and on the third Saturday in April. Black Friday is not Record Store Day. It may be organized by RSD folks and be similar in nature and may be perceived to be another Record Store Day, but it is not. There are differences between the two events the least of which is the number of releases and participants that are involved. That being said, Record Store Day is the single most important event that takes place in the independent retail music world and, for us at least, has replaced December 23rd as the single largest day of the year in terms of sales volume. In fact, sales for Record Store Day in 2013, that single day alone, exceeded the individual totals for our store for every month of the year with the exception of December and November. And, every year that we have participated, we have felt that we could have done at least another 25% more if we had gotten what we had ordered instead of being “shorted” on important and significant releases. Frankly, in a way, I envy the position of stores that have RSD product left over from the standpoint that we would love to be able to order, and receive, 40 copies of something such as the Nick Drake piece mentioned in the article. The key to being successful at Record Store Day is having a good feel on what to order … knowing your customer base. Trying to be all things to all people doesn’t work. Not that we know everything there is to know about ordering RSD product, because we don’t. Some of it becomes a crap shoot, and that, quite frankly, is part of the excitement (to a certain extent). I agree with the comments that this is not about the artists nor the record labels. With the cost of vinyl manufacturing, I don’t know how the labels are making much of a profit on this. Small unit runs are expensive … I know … I have a small indie record label and have released several albums on vinyl during the past three years. Record Store Day creates awareness … it brings in new faces that we hope to turn into long term customers … there is tremendous residual value to the event and an excitement like no other realized by this industry for a long long time … people start talking about Record Store Day in January and they come into the store specifically, as the day gets closer, to talk RSD Shop … it’s great! The only complaint that I have, is that some of the key limited edition pieces are way too “limited”! However, it is something that the Record Store Day folks have been addressing and the situation sure seems to improve with each and every year. God Bless Record Store Day and God Save The Kinks!

  18. RSD treats titles like a ticket to a show. The difference is shows are one time events, in a limited space, because the band is moving to the next city during the night. So the economic disparity between supply and demand is real. It has to be.

    The problem RSD causes is it creates a false demand, so true music fans are fighting with the same nerds that scalp tickets, and prey on false economies, pushing away true music fans that are willing to part with hard earned cash for exciting titles.

    If RSD wants to do something worthwhile, (they don’t, they’re just cashing in the same way scalpers do), they’d encourage the release of exciting titles by labels, in amounts that are sufficient for all fans. It’s more work, and more transactions, but they’ll make the same amount of money, if not more, while satiating the hunger we have for these limited titles.

    And if, as a consumer, the rarity of a specific title is the only thing that draws you to the title, you’re just comic book guy.

  19. record store day is gimmicky bullshit. catering to vinyl fetishists is no way to rally an industry. i’ll just buy the very few rsd releases that i’m interested in on ebay like i’ve always done so i don’t have to depend on available stock.

    i used to be heavily involved in music retail in the 90′s when you could move hundreds of a single title in a day. but even then, the 0′s and 1′s that the industry (not so much the stores themselves) used to line their own pockets were just waiting for that fine day when mass distribution became possible. you can’t put digital music back in the bag. the record store is going to remain a niche business at best.

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