Friday, July 29, 2011

The Case Against Saving Indie Retailers...

There are kids that have no idea what a record store is, and may never set foot in one their entire lives. Meanwhile, digital assets are commanding a greater and greater piece of the pie every year, vinyl notwithstanding. So, why all the effort to prop physical music retailers with exclusives, equal access entitlements, special Record Store Days, and the like?

Part of the reason is that traditional brick-n-mortar shops attract more serious fans, the 'core,' and that means something for certain genres and stores. And this could be a niche for die-hard music fans in the future (let's see). But a lot of this has to do with nostalgia, the idea that somehow that narrow window of your youth should be preserved and transplanted into the present. Or, the expression - let's face it - of some very narrow business interests.

But what if this doesn't make business sense for many artists, especially huge, mainstream rappers like Jay-Z and Kanye? The pair have united to create The Throne, and are offering iTunes and Best Buy major exclusives on their upcoming release. That prompted a strong scolding from a consortium of independent retailers, who demanded equal access to the album, including a deluxe edition. The group - organized under the Record Store Day flag - even publicly admonished the duo for being "short-sighted" and "doing great damage to over 1,700 independent record stores," a group that "supported you and your music for years" (full, open letter posted below).

But these aren't underground rappers with niche followings, they're among the biggest, most mainstream entertainers in the world. They've also been 'in the game' since the 90s, and are blatantly business-minded on every release, branding deal, and licensing opportunity. And a lot has changed since the 90s, especially in hip-hop, where 'the streets' have now moved online and 'mixtapes' are most frequently enjoyed in digital form. On the physical side, music retail has also shifted disproportionately towards big box outlets.

All of which begs the question: if giving indie retailers equal access or exclusives would generate a competitive level of cash and attention, why wouldn't The Throne just do it? Maybe the reason is that it completely misses the target, or means that Apple or Best Buy would be less enthusiastic about positioning and promoting the release. Which raises the critical problem here, which is that nostalgia only really makes sense if it also makes money. And as far guilt trips go - nobody owes anybody anything, especially from the perspective of these two individuals.



Dear Jay-Z and Kanye West,

Independent record stores serve our communities. Our passion is music, and we convey this to the millions of customers who come to our stores. That's what we do.

Four years ago independent music stores across the country banded together to create Record Store Day. Our goal was to counter the negative media coverage about the supposed demise of record stores brought on by the closing of the Tower stores and to respond to the music business practices that fans deemed to be manipulative and onerous.

We reached out to the artist community to see if they would join us, and the response was overwhelming with words of support coming in from Paul McCartney, Erykah Badu, Tom Waits, Chuck D, the Foo Fighters and countless others. Working with their label partners, many of these musicians created limited edition works of art, including vinyl and CDs made especially for music specialty retail. Hundreds of these artists took the opportunity to perform, DJ, and interact with their fans in our record stores. Here in the US, Record Store Day lifted the entire music business by 8% and contributed to the growth in music sales. Record Store Day is now one of the biggest music events in history with millions of people participating worldwide. We also continue to work throughout the year with labels, artists and managers and run regular promotions via physical independent retail and recordstoreday.com.

We are responding to the bad news that your new album will not be available to independent record stores until after iTunes gets a window of exclusivity. We also learned that the deluxe version (which is what the true music fans who shop our stores will want by an overwhelming majority) will only be available at Best Buy exclusively for a period of time. We believe this is a short-sighted strategy, and that your decisions will be doing great damage to over 1,700 independent record stores -- stores that have supported you and your music for years.

We know that you are busy, and that you put most of your energies into creating great music, but we are writing to you in the hope that you will hear us and take the time to rectify this matter. As representatives of the independent record store music community, we are asking you to allow record stores and music fans equal access to your new album.

With the utmost respect,

•Dedry Jones, The Music Experience
•Mike Dreese, Newbury Comics
•Judy Negley, Independent Records
•Mike Batt, Silver Platters
•Tobago Benito, DBS Sounds
•Brian Faber, Zia Records
•Karen Pearson, Amoeba Music
•Bryan Burkert, The Sound Garden
•Mike Wise, Monster
•Rob Roth, Vintage Vinyl
•Joe Nardone, Jr., Gallery of Sound
•Jonathan Fernandez, Rasputin Music
•Dilyn Radakovitz, Dimple Records
•Dustin Hansen, Graywhale Entertainment
•Bill Kennedy, BK Music
•Jim Bland, Plan Nine
•Steve Wilson, Kiefs
•Tom King, Central Square Records
•Alayna Hill Alderman, Richard Storms, Record Archive
•Karl Groeger, Looney Tunes
•Paul Epstein, Twist and Shout
•Nancy Salzer, Salzer's Records
•Rick Ziegler, Indy CD
•Laura, Finders Records
•Deon Borchard, Nic Fritze, The Long Ear
•Chuck Oken, Rhino /Mad Platter
•Allan Miller, John Bevis, Disc Exchange
•Charlotte Kubat, Magnolia Thunderpussy
•John Kunz, Waterloo Records
•Chris Avino, Rainbow Records
•Mike Fratt, Homers
•Rich Koch, Off the Record
•Skip Hermans, Skip's Record and CD World
•Jason Patton, Oz Music
•Quinn Bishop, Cactus Records
•John Timmons, ear X tacy
•Lou Russell, Lou's Records
•Roger Weiss, Streetlight Records
•Terry Currier, Music Millenium
•Andrew Chinnici, Lakeshore Record Exchange
•Michael Bunnell, The Record Exchange
•Mike White, Boo Boo Records
•Steve Baron, CD Central
•Eric Levin, Criminal Records
•Pat O'connor, Culture Clash
•Dan Plunkett, End Of An Ear
•Paula Kret, Exile On Main St
•Chris Penn, Good Records
•Doyle Davis, Grimey's
•Travis Searle, Guestroom Records
•Jim Mcguinn, Hot Poop
•Isaac Slusarenko, Jackpot Records
•Jason Nickey & Heath Byers, Landlocked Music
•Todd Robinson, Luna Music
•Darren & Jim Blase, Shake It
•Anna & Chris Brozek, Slowtrain
•Kimber Lanning, Stinkweeds
•Tom "Papa" Ray, Vintage Vinyl

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