If Record Store Day (RSD) had a figurehead, who would your vote go to? David Bowie? Stevie Nicks? Leonard Cohen? Yes, like Christmas Day or any other religious holiday of light and thanks, Record Store Day is upon us again. Snowballing each year into a bigger and bigger calendar event, with special releases and news articles featuring queues of people as far as the eye can see, lining up outside their local record shops, just hoping to be the first to get their hands on coveted releases.
Once hailed as a temporary phenomenon, Record Store Day is still going strong after its conception in 2007. Whilst it’s not a perfect vehicle, it does remind people yearly about the existence of their local stores or online retailers. Critics argue that the day only seems to benefit the large record companies. For retailers, the practice of ‘firm sale’, whereby they are required to order and pay upfront for unreturnable RSD stock in advance is just too inflexible. It can often mean a fine balancing act between either going out of business or having a bumper day of sales. Stores complain that their regular customers are put-off by RSD queues and that the benefits should be spread throughout the year rather than one day.
It’s a myth that Record Store Day was started to help independent labels and small record shops. At its birth in 2007, REM and Vampire Weekend were included in the rosters – hardly small artists even at the greatest stretch of the imagination. While the resurgence in vinyl sales has coincided with the invention of Record Store Day, research yet to exist confirms that this is correlation rather than causation (or indeed the other way around).
Critics cry that the day panders to record collectors rather than the casual record buyer. Perched awkwardly between these two demographics, I’m certainly more likely to spend my money on special releases, rather than vinyl on general release. Feeling like you’re getting something special, something unusual, something collectable holds more currency. Any chance to celebrate special releases on vinyl is good in my books.
Some argue that the day has become a gimmick often at odds with challenges facing independent record retailers. The quality of special releases often doesn’t hit the mark and can undermine the real, tangible work that local retailers do in their communities. What Record Store Day has done is put a spotlight on vinyl sales and independent retailers, it’s helped to raise the profile of many shops who often do what they do out of a love for vinyl and music, rather than profit (although profit is always nice). To make their dreams a reality, many independent vinyl retailers are connected to coffee shops; they sell beers and run events to keep their businesses alive. Perhaps what is needed is more encouragement for consumers to shop more consistently throughout the year.
As an organisation, RSD do put effort into promoting the event all year round. It can be an event to avoid as an independent label. Plotting releases around the date in April can be tricky. The audience you were hoping would buy your latest signing’s release on vinyl may have their attention diverted by RSD and all that comes with it.
It’s a mixed bag that something which on the outside seems to support independent retailers and vinyl collectors inadvertently does harm to indeed these very things. Large record companies and superstars seem to be the only ones to benefit from the bounty of publicity and buying frenzy. It’s an incredible feat of branding that behind that cloak lies the record industry all along. The record industry itself has been subject to a rollercoaster since the decline of CDs and the rise of streaming. Here it is trying to hold onto physical sales and really, would we expect it to do anything else?
The success of Record Store Day is certainly bittersweet. With one hand it gives and the other it takes away. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde behemoth that’s due for some tweaking. Comment below and let us know what you think about Record Store Day!
You're wondering if we're joining the RSD festivities? You can read more about that here.