Record Store Day began in 2007 as a way to support independent, community-based music retailers in a time when the collapsing music industry and the encroachment of corporate chain stores conspired to threaten their existence. How disturbingly ironic, then, that those very corporate stores are attempting to co-opt the Record Store Day idea and rob it of its central tenet.
Barnes & Noble, the retail bookseller, announced via a news release Nov. 13 "the return of its annual celebration of vinyl records with an expanded Vinyl Weekend Nov. 17 to 19, showcasing its extensive selection of vinyl records and related products including exclusive turntables, music magazines and more."
The period of this "expanded Vinyl Weekend" encompasses Record Store Day's Black Friday event, in which area independent businesses – Revolver Records on Hertel Avenue and Black Dots on Lafayette Avenue – stock RSD-exclusive merchandise and hope to cater to the needs of area vinyl junkies while simultaneously getting a jump on the holiday retail season.
Fair game, right? It's not illegal. Let the free market work it out.
Well, sure, if you believe that the free market automatically rights itself on a fair and balanced playing field. But if, like me, you fail to see any evidence of this being the case, then a bit of consumer activism might be in order to urge the market in the direction we’d like it to go. And that direction is toward the local and independent.
For stores like Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Walmart and Target, all of which sell vinyl records, music is a loss leader. That means that music doesn’t make them money, but it brings people into the stores where, the hope is, they'll buy something that does make the store money.
As Investopedia.com would have it, "This is a common practice when a business first enters a market. Essentially, a loss leader introduces new customers to a service or product in the hope of building a customer base and securing future recurring revenue."
I don’t have the sense that any of this bothers the great majority of consumers. But it bothers me. And if you are a patron of Record Store Day and independent music retailers, or a fan of the phrase "shop local," it should bother you, too.
This has not been a good year for independent music stores in the region. We lost Record Theatre and Spiral Scratch, both participants in Record Store Day. We already had suffered the loss of Home of the Hits (closed in 2006) and New World Record (2008).
And though several new small indie stores have opened recently – Revolver Records and Black Dots on Lafayette Avenue among them – none boasts the vast inventory and immense square footage of these recently fallen businesses. The last man standing is Doris Records on Jefferson Avenue, which has been in business for 55 years.
The closing of Record Theatre and Spiral Scratch represents a failure of RSD's mandate – to celebrate and bolster the strength of the "little guys" and reinforce a sense of community among indie store customers – despite the fact that vinyl sales continue to soar.
Those sales are projected to peak near "the $1 billion benchmark for the first time this millennium" by the time 2017 creaks to a close, according to Forbes. This rising tide does not appear to be saving all ships, however.
This suggests that the market is not righting itself, and that's due in no small part to the actions of corporate chains eager to cash in on the success of the very stores they strove to put out of business in the first place.
What can you do? If you value the experience of shopping in a store that views music not as a loss-leader but as a central concern — that acts in some way as a community hub and that employs local people with a knowledge of the stock they're selling — then spend your music budget in a locally owned independent record store, and not at a big-box retailer.
*Read about a vinyl-loving newcomer: