How Record Store Day helped reinvent ERA – as well as the indie record shop

ERA CEO Kim Bayley reflects on the impact of this Saturday’s annual celebration of independent record stores

Thursday 19th April 2018

 

As we prepare to celebrate the 11th annual Record Store Day this Saturday (April 21), it’s a good time to reflect on the huge impact the event has had not just on indie record shops, but also on the wider retail sector – and on ERA itself.

From the perspective of 2018, it is easy to take it all for granted – a high-profile ambassador in Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, sponsors in the shape of Fred Perry, Friels, Sound Performance and Rega and 240 stores participating – but that is to forget the state of the music industry in 2008 when it all began.

There were many who felt it was all over. The UK industry was well-off its 2001 peak. Our Price was long gone. Zavvi (previously Virgin Megastores) and Woolworths closed that year.. When even big companies like these were closing, it was no wonder that indie stores were collapsing by the day.

But what to do about it? Historically the balance-of-power in the music industry had always been in favour of record companies. Their control over content meant retail had a dependent relationship on their suppliers and had come to expect record companies to have the answer to every problem.

In 2008 it was clear record companies were running out of answers. Their attempts to launch their own digital services and their attempts to sue their way out of piracy had all failed. While the iTunes store was growing, streaming had yet to be launched. There was a vacuum of initiative.

It was that vacuum which Record Store Day filled. Rather than waiting for record companies to solve their problems for them, independent retailers led by Michael Kurtz in the US and Spencer Hickman in the UK decided to do it for themselves.

Since their resources were minimal, they couldn’t run it in the classic top-down fashion -and independents being independents, they wouldn’t have accepted such control anyway – so from the beginning RSD was a coalition of the willing, a collaborative project based on mutual self-interest.

And of course it worked.

None of this is to underplay the contribution of labels. They were early to see the value of the idea. Without their commitment and of course product, RSD simply wouldn’t exist. Ironically, given the constant (and misguided) criticism that somehow the three majors try to “hijack” RSD even today, actually all three majors were far-sighted enough to commit very early to the idea.

But the long-term significance of RSD was that it demonstrated the value of retailers taking control of their own destiny.

It has been equally significant for ERA. RSD was not an ERA initiative. RSD is still not an ERA property. It is still owned and controlled by indie retailers, but we identified very early on that it was something we should encourage and nurture.

First driven in their “spare” time by Spencer Hickman, our independents’ Chairman Paul Quirk and ERA consultant Steve Redmond, RSD’s PR, administration, logistics and marketing is now all handled at ERA by the wonderful Megan Page.

In the process of fulfilling this role we have learned at least two things.

First, the old music industry model of command-and-control is not the only nor always the most appropriate way to get things done. A coalition-of-the-willing can sometimes work even better.

Second, if we can do it once, maybe we can also do it again – and in other segments of the entertainment market. That was the genesis of last year’s 50 Must See Movies Before You Grow Up video campaign. It has led to the creation of a similar campaign for games to be launched next month, and discussions are advanced for the creation of a new music-related promotion.

ERA maintains its traditional representative, lobbying, research and PR functions, but increasingly we are at the frontline of helping our members create workable pan-industry sales promotions.

In that sense Record Store Day is the gift that keeps on giving. It has provided a focus for the vinyl revival, it has led to a resurgence in independent record shops numbers and it has given a renewed sense of purpose to the entertainment retailing sector in general and ERA in particular.

The mightiest oaks, as they say, grow from the smallest of acorns.

 

END

 

Kim Bayley is CEO of the Entertainment Retailers Association

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