View from a Record Store #1
How is the front line of music sales looking in the daylight of downloads, mergers and the internet? Our man from one of the UKs many indie stores is here to give us the low down...
People always talk about the demise of the indie store, so how many indie stores are there in the UK now?
You know the old saying, 'lies damn lies and record industry stats', well in this case it's definitely true. The running stat at the moment is that there are less than 300 stores in the UK. The problem with this is that no one counts second hand only stores. In fact second hand sales are not counted at all. And what constitutes second hand is an area of dispute. The inland revenue has what can only be described as 'wooly' definitions for this, and the music industry fudges over it all the time.
The very healthy over stock market [if it don't sell, get rid of it cheap. It costs to store stuff ] doesn't count as second hand (even though it's been in about three shops by the time I get it), but then again if I buy it as overstock via a 3rd party it is 2nd hand. What a load of old bollocks. Given the amount of gear floating about I reckon it would be a good idea just know how much music is selling at all. So second hand should be counted.
And if you added second hand only shops into the mix, then I imagine that the number of shops would more than double.
There is this other mythical figure which is that there were 2500 indie shops in the UK 10 years ago. This is much harder to quantify. My guess is that this is more than likely about a 1/3rd of the real figure. Whole swathes of shops were not counted. Entire chains that only bought overstock were not members of bodies like the ERA, and they really could not give two shits about what the BPI thought of them, so these were not counted.
So when it comes this much vaunted demise of the indie, give it little credence. The issue that is always disguised is the fact that all independent retail is in the toilet. There are two main reasons for this:
The general public have been left in the dark about the level to which this has got to. The HMV quarterly rent bill is somewhere in the region of £3 million. Think about that for a minute. Think about the number of CDs HMV would have to sell, at about 15% margin..... somewhere in the region of 2 or 3 million CDs every quarter. I think it is now possible to see why HMV is in so much trouble.
The much vaunted collapse in albums sales is all part of the homogenisation of retail caused by greedy commercial landlords. Retailers need to sell lots and lots of stuff to meet huge turnover targets, just to get the capital to pay ever increasing rents. In the last 20 years this has had a far more distorting and detrimental impact on retail than anything the internet has ever done.
I am firmly of the view that, out of choice, 'people' would rather shop on a human level. It is after all meant to be enjoyable and social. Buying online is rarely that. But by reducing readily available choice, and increasing price we have been forced to look elsewhere, and so the spiral started. Once market share started to be lost, it was going to be hard to recover it, unless a landlord had the foresight to reduce the largest capital expense of the business to ensure they were there in 5 years.
Not likely. Books and Music were the first and have been the hardest hit. They lend themselves to the medium. But every sector is now up for grabs. And all for one thing. Greed. Greed. Greed. No one is allowed to make a reasonable living now. There always has to be some filthy rich bastard at the top creaming the majority of it off.
My Grandad always used to say, 'good business is; always leave something in it for the other guy'. Not any more.
Until the state improves regulation of the entirely unregulated commercial property sector, high streets will continue their down ward spiral.
And this does not even touch on the impact of charity shops, record companies over releasing product and so on and so on.
Bookshops, thrift store, hardware, even clothing stores have been massacred by a misplaced policy regarding commercial property.