“Those of us who run indie labels are finding it harder to sell records than ever before – because all the sales go to mass-market reissues”
Earlier this week, it was widely reported that vinyl is outselling digital downloads in the UK for the first time since the iTunes store was launched here in 2004. Finally, some good news! After all the tragic losses from the world of music in 2016, here was some seasonal good cheer: the warm and wonderful crackle of vinyl was finally fighting back against cold, compressed MP3s. But, despite the discussions it generated on Newsnight and in these very pages, no one thought to point out that the premise of vinyl surging ahead of downloads is utter nonsense.
The real story is that sales of downloads are dropping not because vinyl is wooing back digital listeners but because streaming is becoming the default way of consuming digital music. Furthermore, the headlines were misleading because vinyl hadn’t outsold digital downloads at all, but rather had made more money for the music industry over the previous week – and no doubt a good proportion of that was thanks to Kate Bush’s new live album Before the Dawn, which sets you back well over £50 on vinyl, more than four times as much as the download.
The relentless spin on the so-called “vinyl revival” is getting ridiculous – as the Daily Mash pointed out in a piece about how vinyl has become more popular than food. The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has been spinning this line for the last couple years, since taking over the reins of Record Store Day. But feelgood stories such as this week’s are like those backmasked records that may or may not have contained satanic messages: gibberish. The truth, for many labels and shops, seems to be the complete opposite.
This year has been the most difficult in the 12 years that I’ve been running my label, Sonic Cathedral. If you are releasing records by new artists, it is getting harder and harder to sell them. Unless you are reissuing Foo Fighters albums to be sold in the supermarket chains that have jumped on the vinyl-revival bandwagon, the situation is nowhere near as VG+ as ERA is suggesting. It’s not just me: Fortuna Pop! has sadly decided to call it a day after 20 years; another person who runs a well respected indie tells me its records sell in smaller and smaller numbers. I’ve never sold many copies, but when one of the major indies is shifting roughly the same amount – seemingly regardless of press and radio coverage or touring – then surely that’s cause for concern, not celebration?
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