Monday, 22 April 2013

National Rip-Off Store Day

Saturday's National Record Store Day proved two things. The first was that there is a great demand for vinyl and collectors items, and this isn't just confined to old gits like me who remember when vinyl was all you could buy. The second was that record companies, if not record stores, will use any opportunity they can get to rip people off and screw them out of as much money as possible.

For this reason, my first national record store day is also likely to be my last.

Until now, I have felt a mix of guilt and anxiety at missing the yearly event on a consistent basis. Guilt because I wasn't supporting local record stores, and anxiety because I knew I might be missing out on limited edition vinyl-only tracks by people I like. Thinking that I would never get the chance to hear, let alone own, these tracks made me determined to make the effort this year.

I left the house relatively early on Saturday to go to Banquet records in Kingston. I foolishly thought it would be a case of turn up, pop in, and check out. Instead I found that my 'relatively early' was other people's 'very, very late' as the queue outside the store not only reached the end of the road, it went round the corner, up another road and past a car park. Some of the people at the front of the queue, and the ones who'd already been in the store and gone by the time I arrived, had been there since the previous evening, queuing as if it was The Sale at Debenhams, or the opening of a new IKEA store.

The fact that they would queue this long was what confirmed the demand for vinyl, and provided irrefutable proof that whilst some people will only download tracks and have no interest in a physical product, for other people the physical product is still the all-important thing to have. 

Record companies seem to willfully fail to realise this. Happy with the vast amount of download single sales, they ignore the fact that a lot of previously massive artists  no longer crack the top 40 with anything other than the first single from an album, if that. It's as if, for 364 days of the year, they don't get the obvious reason why this happens - which is that once you already have the whole CD, why would you want to download the single? There are no new tracks, no exclusive remixes, and crucially, no physical product, so there is nothing that a fan has to have in order to complete their collection. Hence, where once they would have bought a CD, 7 inch vinyl release, and/or 12 inch extended version irrespective of whether they had anything they didn't already own, or was any good, now they give it a miss, and even Robbie Williams can't get near the top 100 with his latest single.

But on the 365th day of the year, they sort of get it, but like being heroes, it's just for one day, and its a day when they show their utter contempt for people who want to buy records. Instead of noting the queues and thinking, 'maybe we could release vinyl versions of every single to meet this obvious demand', they think 'here's a lot of people that have waited a long time. If they want something that much, that means we can charge a lot of money for it' and act in what seems to be the British way by charging ridiculous prices and alienating the very people whose support they need.

Sample prices this year included £9 for a David Bowie 7 inch, £12 for a Kate Bush 12 inch, £11 for a Suede 7 inch, and £7 for a single by Frank Turner. Even a rabbit shaped vinyl version of Chas'n'Dave's Rabbit was going for about £8. It's as if the record companies are cutting out the middle man and immediately selling things for the sort of price they would previously have eventually traded hands at a few years later.  

Worse still, of the over 450 limited edition singles and albums that were released, the vast majority of them were simply vinyl editions of tracks already available in many formats. The Suede single was one track off their new album and one off their first. The Bowie singles included two tracks from The Next Day on one record. In short, no track you wouldn't already have if you were a real fan, but a collectors item you would have no choice but to pay over the odds for if you had loyally followed the artist and bought everything they ever did. What a nice way to say thank you to your fans. 

The record industry suffers from many self-inflicted wounds, including ignoring Napster till it was too late to stop the illegal download market getting as big as it is, but when they have the chance to do something really good to restore their reputation their default mode is to go for quick profit and exploitation of loyal fans. The long game is passed over for the quick win. Reasonably priced records 365 days a year, or one day of big money? They probably don't think twice about it. The record companies at least don't deserve your support or sympathy. Contempt is a better emotion, as that's the one they have for you.