Cheap CDs? Don’t Believe the Hype

Independent record storeThis week, the news came out that Universal Music Group is planning on slashing its CD list prices in an attempt to revitalize CD sales. This is a good thing for music fans, right? Unfortunately, it sounds like it was implemented about as thoughtfully as a Republican-backed prescription drug plan. In the end, who gets fucked? The little guy. Glorious Noise got permission to reprint this message from an outraged record store employee.

Don’t believe the hype. This is a pretty disgusting attempt by one of the majors to further stick it to the small retailers and the one-stop wholesalers who have helped to make these fuckers fat and rich over the years. Earlier this week, Universal Music gave our independent record coalition an early look at this “great deal.” The details are pretty offensive. They advertise a big cut in the list price and hype this great savings to consumers. In reality the actual cost to wholesalers is dropped a buck and a half or so.

Retailers who aren’t direct with the majors (95% of us) will still get stuff through a one-stop who will have to compensate for their own shrinking margin by adjusting prices to us. We may ultimately pay a buck less for discs and are now faced with an already cynical, downloading public who saw the news reports and now thinks they shouldn’t have to pay more than $10 or $11.99 for a cd.

Long story short: record stores end up looking even more like the bad guys. Best Buy will still sell stuff at or below the already unfair cost price they get from these fuckers. On top of all that, Universal plans to use this move as an excuse to cut program incentives and co-op advertising dollars to retailers. Now we can’t even get some of the ad dollars that have been available to us. They even have the balls to make it sound like they are doing us a favor.

“Our new pricing model will enable U.S. retailers to offer music at a much more appealing price point in comparison to other entertainment products,” said Jim Urie, president of Universal Music & Video Distribution. “We are confident this pricing approach will drive music fans back into retail stores.”

I hate to get completely preachy here but…if you love music (and I know you guys do) you need to support record stores. These labels are evil bastards who would love nothing more than to completely eliminate us from the process. They could care less if the only place to buy music is Best Buy, Circuit City, Borders and through their own online methods. And half of these label reps are too stupid to realize that if this happens it’s going to eliminate most of their jobs as well. No accounts to service means no need for account reps.

Yesterday an old friend who owns and operates a great store called Desirable Discs called to tell me that she was closing her doors after 25 years of doing business in the Dearborn area. This was one of the greatest record stores in the history of Michigan record stores. As recently as a year ago they had three stores, the flagship being a 4000+ square foot store loaded with mostly independent CDs and an amazing collection of vinyl. Record freaks and store owners ranging from NRBQ’s Tom Ardolino & Terry Adams to high end Japanese dealers went out of their way to get to this store. They closed one store, then another, moved their last location to a much smaller spot and finally decided to call it quits yesterday. Look around. This is happening in your town too.

If you only care about sitting at your computer and ordering from Amazon or think saving two bucks on a new release justifies shopping at Best Buy and Target (great music store), then ignore all this shit. But if you are at all like me and you love shopping in record stores, seriously reconsider your buying habits. I seriously believe that the erosion of real stores will ultimately mean the erosion of lots of the real music out there.

Robert Nolan is co-owner of Rubber Soul Records in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

24 thoughts on “Cheap CDs? Don’t Believe the Hype”

  1. I totally agree. There’s nothing like going into an independent music store, with the stacks of old vinyl, the dusty smell, and the guy who’s actually going to be nice to you, rather than just sell for commission. Sadly enough, my favourite one closed recently too.

  2. I don’t understand why these stores would close? It seems to me the store’s discussed in this piece, and in the comment above (or below) are specialty stores, the kind that specialize in vinyl and high rise imports. Why would these stores suffer due to Best Buy, Target or even Tower? The people who shop at the independent record stores are not primarily going to be going there to look for the Josh Groban album, so who cares if Best Buy offers it for 10.99.

    There are no good record stores in Washington, DC. not one. the only indie that i can think of, DCCD stocks nothing from In the Red Records, but has an nsyc placard. why? i imagine it is because they are located on the busiest bar strip and random douches stop in to shop. Color me cynical, but if indy stores want to survive, why not operate from a low rent place, cater to an audience, and let them come to you.

  3. Small, independent record stores still don’t get the bulk of their sales from vinyl or imports. Those are the extra touches that collectors really value. The stores still get most of their sales through more mainstream sales. Sure, Britney buyers aren’t going to small, dingy record shops, but Ryan Adams fans are. So are Wilco fans. So are many O’Brother Where Art Thou fans. And those folks often get great recommendations for artists they’ve never heard of from the clerks behind the counter. That’s the point. And that’s what makes this important.

  4. Sucks that the independent record stores are being phased out, …but get used to it. Happened to bookstores in the 90s with Borders and Barnes & Noble. The days of perusing your local indie shop are almost gone. Embrace the future, folks.

  5. The dusty little record shops have been dissapearing for some time now. I got mixed feelings about it, myself. The idea of these places is very romantic but there’s not much need for them anymore. 40 years ago if you lived in NYC and wanted a Howlin Wolf record you had to go to a hip little shop and you probably wouldn’t find it anyway. Nowadays anyone can find the most obscure record in a second and find loads of information about it to boot.

    And although I’ve spent many pleasant hours browsing in the little boutique type record stores, I must say I’ve spent some real unpleasant ones, too. You know what I’m talking about- the hipper than thou attiude, the insane prices, the Simpsons comic book guy vibe. “Other Music” in NYC comes to mind. Sure, not all of them are like that and some are truly wonderful places & are really performing a community service (Shangri- La in Memphis, for instance) but in the end patronizing these shops is becoming charity work. A worthy charity maybe, but charity nonetheless.

    As for the disappearance of precious hipster boutiques causing the “erosion of lots of the real music”, I humbly predict that will not happen even a little bit. The thing that’s really killing the shops- the net- has made music, the real and the un-, much more available to everyone. So now an obscure but great artist like Eleni Mandel can put out her recordings her own self and get sales in the boonies. You could call it progress.

  6. Yeah, ‘For True Lovers’ or whatever it’s called is pretty darn good – it’s essentially an Eleni record run through the country & western ringer. Lots of cool extra instrumentation, including some spectacular pedal steel; Eleni herself is in awesome vocal form singing her tribute to all the greats (Haggard, Cline, etc.). Get it. Get it now.


  7. “There are no good record stores in Washington, DC. not one. the only indie that i can think of, DCCD”

    I don’t know if you collect vinyl or not, but Orpheus Records in Clarendon has a pretty good used vinyl collection, and may be the only place in DC to get new releases on vinyl in any sort of quanity. If you’re just looking for CD’s, he’s not so hot. Other than Olsson’s, there’s a couple of decent ones on Connecticut just north of Dupont Circle. Just trying to help.

  8. Great, more soft-headed sloganeering about the “evil, greedy” record labels. Just so you know, I love indie record stores and have shopped exclusively at them for over 10 years (since I was old enough to know better). I appreciate knowledgable staff and a selection of great independent music. But indie record stores should be (and largely are) supported by conscientious music fans that appreciate the selection, service, and environment of a local retailer. If consumers are willing to trade off indie record stores in favor of lower prices at charmless, corporate retailers, so be it. It’s how the market works.

  9. San Diego has several great record stores, Off The Record, Blue Meanie and Lou’s Records, too name the standouts. It will be a sad day indeed if/when these icons of San Diego life close their doors. They seem to be taking a “wait and see” approach. I hope, for all our sakes, that they survive.

    If you buy music at Target or Best Buy, you get what you deserve.

    Believe it or not, places like Borders and Tower, will suffer under this deal, too. They will have to sign a deal with Universal to guarantee 25% of their floor space to get the lower prices even though Universal CD’s only account for 14% of the sales. That means these retailers will be full of crap that no one will buy.

    Media Co. executives are running scared from the Internet and we will all suffer in their delusional panic to make their quick buck and get out.

  10. I dont like throwing out opinions on boards like this.. b/c ultimately anyone can challange what you say b/c it really comes down to simply just that, opinions..

    I certainly know someone here could dispute what I am about to say, pick certain things I say apart and comment on each line I write.

    but, that’s not what I am trying to say here, so if you feel you must, be my guest.. but I would prefer that the overall message here gets across instead.

    I wanted to make a comment about slipperypeate’s note about “why indies would close” saying that Best Buy only sells Josh Groban CDs at $8.99 so why would it matter.

    This is so untrue.

    Do you understand at all that the reason bands and artists like U2, Radiohead, R.E.M., The Police, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Janes Addiction, Nirvana, The White Stripes,

    The Clash, Elvis Costello, Green Day, Dashboard Confessional, Nine Inch Nails, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Grateful Dead, Wilco, Public Enemy, NWA, etc etc etc. I could go on for years here.. naming bands of all different genres, eras, influences, etc. They ALL owe independent record stores the birth and longevity of their careers??

    think about artists that have had “comebacks” too like Tony Bennett, Johnny Cash, Nick Drake.. where do you think that all developed from?

    They all built their following and their sales history at indie stores, which in turn eventually moved up to the Best Buys of the world when it became profitable .. the indies don’t care if the record sells “x” number of units in a certain period of time.. if the Elvis Costello catalog doesn’t move for a few years, then so what? They will continue to carry Costello, they know he’s the real deal and will support his career buy keeping the records in the store, moving to the public.. and when the tide turns and a re-birth of that said artist comes back, guess who was always there helping make that happen? It happens, the business is cyclical.

    Best Buy was able to get into the music business and sell CDs because of the success of the these stores.. (btw: I include Tower and Virgin, etc in this too b/c even if they are larger and more expensive sometimes, they do have a sense of developing artists and do support music and do have people who work for them who are very passionate music people)

    but keep in mind.. these stores actually HELP Best Buy b/c they establish the bottom level.. they help build the sales when no one else cares.. (when Best Buy doesnt’ carry their records) and Best Buy benefits from it when it works and then turns around and shoots the creators in the head.

    Thanks! love ya!

    Did you know that Best Buy has recently cut back on the number of records they will take in? Cutting back by over 50%? They actually told several independent labels and distributors recently to “Not bring us anymore of these regional and developing independent bands because we can’t sell them” they really do not care.

    Hey, that’s good actually b/c now only the indies will have these records right?.. but wait, no more indies? Then damn, who’s selling the records in my hometown? how do I get it?

    Amazon.. (who are great)

    ok that’s fine.. but what if they are the ONLY choice, that’s not healthy. Not even for them

    We need both.

    To say that Best Buy doesn’t kill indies is completely uninformed. Do you realize that the new Radiohead record, which Best Buy sold for something like $8 ($4 below COST for a indie)

    that Best Buy sold 75% of those records in the first week alone? Think about how many sales the indies lost.

    Also, the new Mars Volta record (former members of At the Drive-In, a band the indies spearheaded for years)that Best Buy sold 50% of those records in the first week?

    BOTH of these records are artists that the indies carried for years when no one else cared.. or stocked.

    the indies put the posters in the windows, sold the tickets to their shows, had the instores when no one else wanted to help, told their customers about them, played their records in the stores, told everyone “You must check this out”

    hell, this is where the freakin’ BANDS shop!

    Do you know the thrill of being in a band and going into a store to see your disc on the shelves? especially see people buy it? walk in and hear it playing over the speakers? and seeing customers pick it up, go tell their friends, etc.. and next thing you know, you have twice as many people at your shows, the paper wants to write about you and the store wants more discs..

    where did that start? yep, at the stores.

    Do you want to see that go away?

    To result only in a jpg on a website?

    these stores also did this back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s with the bands I listed above.. to name a few. It has been going on for decades.

    Don’t be mislead. Indies NEED these sales. And the sales that keep them in business and help them take chances and bring in records for artists no one knows but they are the only ones that believe in them.

    without that business, they aren’t getting over 70% of their walk-in traffic and sales..

    how can they afford to carry the great bands of the future and help develop them? Help us learn about them? Grow to love them? Support them so they too can have a career and we can tell our friends, etc.

    Indies need to sell tons of Radiohead, White Stripes, Dave Matthews even, b/c they don’t sell enough of the rest to stay open.. that’s reality.

    Bands like The Clash and U2, who indies helped develop and sell, are the reason that bands like At the Drive In and Radiohead had support in the beginning, and those bands today are the reason why the next generation will have a chance.

    it’s not JUST the Josh Grobans that Best Buy is selling for cheap, look around next time you are in Best Buy.. they are taking the heart out of the music business… they devalued music.. sure records are overpriced.. but now, Best Buy has made them so cheap that they have no value to anyone anymore.

    they have been developing this strategy for over ten years now.. everyone in the business knew this was going to happen, but no one could do anything to stop it. Stores started coalitions (CIMS, MMN, AIMS, DRMC, LINC) to fight, but they are losing this battle.. and Universal’s new pricing policy is only going to drive the stake in more… these stores are happy prices are going down don’t get me wrong.. but it’s the way they are going about it that doesn’t make sense.. it’s backwards.

    Think long term, if these stores close, who’s going to carry the bands of the future? Who’s going to believe in them when no one else does?

    Eventually, this is going to catch up to Best Buy and the music business b/c without these indies they won’t have great records to sell, nothing will be developed.. so, Universal wants to spend money on consumer marketing to bring people back into the stores.. and build careers again..

    wow, what a concept!

    But think about this, if the stores that will support these artists in the beginning by telling people about the music

    and doing all the things that these records need to develop.. then who the hell is going to sell the records while the labels try to spend this money developing them? Let’s find quality first.. quality in music and quality in an outlet to sell that music. Both of those must exist or it goes nowhere and can very well make things worse.

    Now, I also want to say that I totally understand why some people don’t like to shop at indies.. some indies have a bad reputation for clerks that are jerks, people that are “too cool” to help (hey, I work in the music business myself and I get this crap too) sure, I don’t like it.. but who cares? I understand all of the reasons why indies have hurt themselves over the years, the ones that have attitudes and don’t help with any customer service they certainly are not saints in some towns.

    But, don’t let bad apples make you feel like the entire tree is rotten. First, these stores are STILL important to the health of the business even if you do choose not to shop there.

    also.. keep in mind, there are a lot of wonderful stores and people out there, who would jump off buildings for the music they love and to bring that music to us, the consumers.. they all are sitting back now, wondering what the hell they are going to do.. and where the future is for their passions..

    first it’s the stores, next it’s the bands.

    we all need to think about this and support whatever it is that helps keep music going. Even some of the digital companies coming up (iTunes, Napster, etc) will be “good” for the music business.. b/c they are very well aware of all of the above.. sure, indies stores will lose sales..

    but again we all are in the same boat here.. if they can make buying music again a success.. and help develop artists (like they claim they want to do) then indies will also benefit from that long term.

    Support those that understand.

    I have faith that something will happen, that the people who have passion about music care too much (those that work in it and those that buy) and will help support the business and help it grow back..

    but for those of you that are “on the fence” and shop at these stores that kill the industry, we need your help as well b/c we cannot do it alone.

    shop wherever you want, but respect what these stores mean to the business and the bands that we all love, regardless.

    we are the only ones that can make a difference.

    the entire business is counting on us.

  11. Wow. Having worked at the largest independent in St. Louis for 3+ years, let me just say to that post, *right on*. We’ve finally gotten to a point where we don’t *have* jerky clerks. All we have are people that love music, think that it’s the healing force of the freaking universe, and want to get the good stuff out to as many people as possible. So support your indie record store! And yer indie book store, for that matter (St. Louis is up to two now, which seems to be an anomaly compared to other cities…)!

  12. Noname makes a bunch of good points that I didn’t even get to in my original rant. I wrote those words in response to a message in a music message board by the way. It wasn’t written with the intention of heading up a big website story or anything. I also never intended to respond to any critism from it…everyone is entitled to their opinion. Jasper calling me “softheaded” and sloganeering is a load of shit though. It isn’t just some “fuck the man” lip service, we are talking about fair trade laws here Richard. I took economics 101 too, we all know “how the market works…” we’re talking about big box chains who are engaging in unfair and illegal activity here. They force labels to give them enormous price breaks, exclusive deals and return policies that no one else can get. On top of that,they turn around and break street dates with no penalty. When the White Stripes “Elephant” was released, some of the Best Buy stores were selling it the weekend before release…days before we even had the merchandise in hand. And when we report it…nothing happens. Is that what a fair market dictates pal? Is that why Best Buy has been under investigation by the government? None of us who own these stores are looking for pity or a handout here, but don’t we have a right to expect something close to a level playing field? Last time I checked it was supposed to America here. The big box retailers are always going to get a better price based on the volume of stuff they move, no question. But consumers should at least be informed about what’s going on here. You might dig a little deeper into economic theory as well Jasper. If all competition is eliminated (legally or illegally) you think you are still going to get such a sweet price from those big retailers?


  13. I meant John Mayer in my first post. i don’t even know if there is a josh groban? that said, not meaning to make this an argument, buuuut, i didn’t mean to imply that best buy only sold john mayer albums. i was in there this weekend looking at the nomad zen nx and they have a decent selection. the cds are still overpriced at about 14.99. compared to olsons though (which is a local localchain bookstore primarily) 18.99 and the cd stores on dupont (one just closed) 17.99-19.99 (one of which specializes in world music, i believe) they are underpriced.

    “the indies don’t care if the record sells “x” number of units in a certain period of time”

    i simply don’t believe that is true as a overall fact. It may be true of good independent cd stores, but having lived in a few places that weren’t cities and now in dc, there aren’t good cd stores in many places. many are having to stock what will sell in order to pay the rent (which i guess it agreed on all around). that is why, i assume, you’ll find nsync at dccd but not Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Psychocandy’. Which my point is this is stupid, b/c i, a music fan continually search for ‘psychocandy’ everywhere, but never for nsync. i can get nsync, or u2 anywhere. i can not get manitoba most places. Indies need to stick to what makes them indies, Stocking stuff that isn’t crap and that you can’t pick up for 8.99 at Best Buy. Furthermore, it isn’t just that the artists “ALL owe independent record stores the birth and longevity of their career.” I’d like to think I had something to do with that (not me personally, but the fans and yeah indie stores are fans as well, the good ones) as well. But sure if noone was carrying nick drake, it is impt that your local mom & pop has had in on the shelves for years.

    That said, i would rather shop, and do shop at indies rather than faceless best buys, etc. however, when it is best buy that has the best selection in your town, well, that is a very sad thing. It is slightly misinformed (if I must cede ground) to say that Best Buy doesn’t affect indies. Obviously bands like the white stripes, radiohead, are selling big b/c of the underprice and availability in Best Buy, Circuit City. But also, it is the availability that is helping to sell these. I am sure there are plenty of folks who bought the white stripes album who are not the kind of person to go into a indie, or rather the type of person to search out music. they saw it on vh1 and thought it was cool. they were at the mall and picked it up. that person was not going to go looking for the cd.

    i completely argee that it is indie stores that keep the music flame burning from below. However, with the classic stuff that they stock, the clash, wire, X, or more to the point Dylan, the Byrds, the Stones, this stuff is best sold at the “Nice Price.” If the only hope for indie stores is to sell ‘Revolver’ at 18.99 then nothing is going to save them.

  14. i just thought of this so i figured i would post it separate –

    Just as a thought, why shouldn’t I be able to pay a fair amount (to me) to get a cd I like if a faceless co. has it. The artist doesn’t seem to give a toss about how much the store is charging or what store is doing what to whom.

    Why is the burden on the consumer to be ethical if the ‘artist’ is divorced from his product as soon as it is packaged and shipped?

  15. I hope Albany. NY’s best indie store, Last Vestige, sticks around. Most of their inventory is used CDs, so they might weather the storm.

    This is not true for everyone, but I have bought one cd in the past 2 years (literally), but I have bought a ton of vinyl, all of it from indie stores. Changes in the CD pricing will not affect my relationship with the indies, because their price has been way out of my comfort range. Even $10-$12 is a little high for me, because records are just plain nicer. I record them onto my computer, and turn the tracks into mp3s.

    If you really want to help indies, buy their used stuff. I’m no expert, but their margins are probably better on that than anything else.

  16. Here’s the policy according to Hits Daily Double:

    Starting this month and phasing-in through the end of the year, new releases will carry a suggested retail price of $12.98, with most “frontline” CDs wholesaling for the aforementioned $9.09. “Midline” and developing-artist product (“SoundSavers,” “20th Century Masters,” “Listen Up!”) will wholesale for $6.06.

    One exception to the new pricing will be releases from a select number of “superstar” artists, which will carry a higher wholesale price of $10.10. While not detailed in the materials sent to retailers, insiders say those titles that chart in the Top 15 upon release will be invoiced at the superstar price until they slip out of the Top 25.

    The lower prices, of course, come with the elimination of discounts and co-op ad dollars, but there are other catches as well: In order to qualify for the “new aggressive JumpSTART pricing,” retailers must agree in writing to a “promotional commitment” requiring them to devote a minimum of 33% of “merchandising and marketing opportunities” (i.e. end caps, windows, listening booths) and 25% of their overall bin space to UMVD product.

    That’s some catch. But there’s more: One-stops must ensure that their accounts “cooperate in distribution of UMVD-provided marketing materials (flyers, bag stuffers, etc.) through their stores” and display in-store signage featuring UMVD’s low-price sticker artwork. They must also agree to pass the savings realized from JumpSTART pricing to their accounts.

    One independent retailer has already characterized the above requirements as “impossible,” noting that major-label product has never had that large a presence in indie stores. Those retailers who choose not to participate (or participate and are found to be “non-compliant”) will be charged higher wholesale prices of $11.50, $12.50 (“superstar”) and $7.00 (midline).

  17. As much as I love championing the little guy and supporting small businesses, I am also a little guy myself. I ask these questions: why am I paying $17.99 for this? Can I get it elsewhere cheaper? If I can, I’ll go there. I like flipping through endless bins as much as the next guy, and I hate to see cool people lose their jobs, but if Amazon is saving me $5 a CD or more, well… shit. Sometimes I like to eat something other than tuna sandwiches, you know.

  18. I’m one of those dorks who tries to buy everything on vinyl, so local, independent record stores get a lot of my business. My girlfriend would say that local record stores get way too much of my business, actually. And for those five to ten cds I purchase every year because it hasn’t been or won’t be released on vinyl, I make sure to buy them at my favorite record stores, too. Although I can see the other side of this argument, I think it’s worth two bucks more a cd to shop in a store that stocks everything you’re interested in, is willing to help you find something new based on your tastes, and is always happy to special order something they don’t typically carry. If all the record stores close, I’ll have to move to Europe where record stores and book stores are still alive and well. (For the time being, anyway.)

    And, in a very similar story, check out this article in the Onion:

  19. I would like to add to what Mark said: While it may be tragedy that so many indie store disappearing, I must agreed that I’ve spent far too many hours of my life in inhospitable, hip-than-thou indie stores that not only didn’t seem to appreciate my business but who’s hipster appeal seem to draw from it’s aloof, distainful treatment of it’s customers (i.e. RECKLESS RECORDS in Chicago – lampooned in the film “High Fidelity). Many of the indie stores that have disappeared in Seattle (Orpheum, Bedazzled) have because customers were sick of being treated like shit. It’s no wonder that as the retail music industry seems to being retracting in Seattle (as everywhere else), one local indie store chain, Sonic Boom Records, is not only thriving but expanding because, in a genre not known for it, they treat their customers with respect.

    Seattle is a town not only appreciates but expects niceness. Attitude only go so far here. Other indie stores should learn for their example.

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