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Record Store Day: A beacon of hope for retailing
Friday April 22, 2016
We have grown accustomed to newspaper headlines describing the
"death of the High Street".
If shopping centres are not dying, they are said to be
"faceless" or "bland" or "anonymous".
More and more retailing is conducted online, which is, by
definition "faceless" and "anonymous".
How refreshing then to experience the fun, the unpredictable joy
and sheer human interaction of Record Store Day.
Over 230 independent shops participated in last Saturday's
event. Early indications are that it was more commercially
successful than ever - with stores reporting sales up on average
between 10 and 25% on last year's event - and that is of course
vital for a sector which has seen so many store closures over the
past decade. For many indies today it has been a
lifeline. But more than that, I believe Record Store Day
exemplifies in a particularly dramatic way the very essence of
entertainment retailing at its best.
It is about stores rooted in their local music community. It is
about stores and fans united in a love of music. And it is about
the diversity and individuality of an incredibly entrepreneurial
It is a curious fact that for the past decades the wider music
industry has tended to dismiss independent stores as old-fashioned,
conservative, an anachronism.
And yet it is independents who week-in, week-out discover and
nurture and find audiences for new music. It is independents ,
precisely because they have been marginalised, who have innovated,
most notably by identifying an appetite for vinyl none of the big
players had noticed.
ERA is proud to support Record Store Day. We salute our
independent record shops. In their resilience, imagination and
individuality they are a beacon of hope for retailing as a
A love letter to record companies
Friday February 26, 2016
It's no secret retailers and record companies sometimes have a
'lively' relationship. And even if margins weren't tiny and even if
physical volumes weren't shrinking and even if streaming was
fantastically profitable, things would still sometimes get
The fact is the skills required to make it in retail are very
different to those required to sign and develop acts and bring them
to market. The kinds of personalities you meet in record companies
often wouldn't last five minutes in retail - and many of our lot
would fare just as badly if they were pitched into the world of
It's chalk and cheese. Too often in the past we have tried to
gloss over the differences between us in a well-meaning attempt to
reach a consensus which has left no one particularly satisfied.
Sometimes we haven't been as clear as we might have been about our
'red lines', the things we really can't afford to compromise
Maybe it is time to celebrate each other's differences. Maybe
it's time to celebrate each other's successes. To remind ourselves
about what first attracted us to each other.
And since it's my idea, I guess I'm obliged to go first. And
since we live in an age of clickbait, and the eye-catching line is
everything, let's call it something you maybe never expected from
the CEO of ERA: A love letter to record companies.
And this week there's a perfect reason to write it: Wednesday's
BRITs was a triumph. And the reason it was a triumph was because it
exemplified many of the things record companies do best:
The Strong Personal Vision
Apart from a few outliers , the best retailers are very
much team enterprises. On the contrary, many of the greatest record
labels are the result of strong individuals with a distinctive
vision (think Chris Blackwell, Martin Mills, Clive Davis or Lucien
This year's BRITs was very much the work of Warner boss Max
Lousada. By all accounts over the past couple of years he talked
the BPI council into significantly increasing the budget for the
show which struck some as a bit odd when budgets everywhere else
are under attack.
In the end the result was stunning, a tour de force of
production. You could see the money in the room, but most
importantly, on the screen.
The talent for talent
Of course dealing with talent is what labels do, but there can
be few greater challenges than the potential talent nightmare which
is the BRITs. The stakes are high, the egos as big as they
get. This year's show really did offer some of the greatest
mainstream musical talent in the world right now. Bieber, Rihanna,
Coldplay and Adele made for a fiercesome combination.
The Appetite for Risk
The BRITs was pretty much obliged to acknowledge David Bowie's
demise, but that's not to say it wasn't risky. On the contrary,
given the undoubted preponderance of David Bowie fans in the media,
it felt in advance that they were set fair for failure. Gaga's
Grammy effort seemed to prove the point, with The Guardian's Alexis
Petridis reporting she "rampaged through the late singer's back
catalogue like it was an obstacle onIt's A Knockout.
Annie Lennox and Gary Oldman did a tremendous job with the
spoken tributes and combined with the stunning visuals and Lorde's
genuinely fresh take on 'Life On Mars' provided the ultimate
riposte to the naysayers. This was a risk worth taking.
All this, and great music too!
By definition the BRITs is a mass market show and the talent
choices reflected that, but as a handy two hour guide to the
state-of-the-art in popular music, this year's BRITs would be hard
And as the credits began to roll, streams and downloads of the
performers flashed down fibre optic and copper cables and through
routers to laptops and phones around the country, order lines to
distributors began to hum, delivery vans fired up their
The UK record business provided the platform. Now it's time for
retailers and digital services to work their own miracles and turn
TV magic into the cold hard cash which makes the whole business
PRS/ PPL Fees
Tuesday February 9, 2016
It has long been a bone of contention with music retailers that
they have to pay for the privilege of playing in-store the music
they sell - through the PRS and PPL licences all business premises
which play music are obliged to have.
To be clear, they do not question the principle of public
performance licensing. No one doubts the justification for DIY
stores or bingo halls or bars or crematoria to recompense
rights-owners for the use of their work.
No one needs to persuade music retailers that music has a
What they do question is the idea that they have to pay to play
music when the main reason they do so is to sell music.
This is very different, for instance, to commercial radio
stations who play music to sell advertising or bars who play music
to sell alcohol. Music retailers use music predominantly to sell
music. And naturally any sales they generate typically benefit
rights owners far more than they do the retailer.
Against this background and a physical music market which
remains challenged, the steady increases in the fees demanded by
PRS and PPL from music retailers is causing increasing concern in
Many ERA members have reported fees which have risen at more
than double the rate of inflation over the past decade. The level
of licence fees charged to the bigger chains and supermarkets in
particular seem excessive, and in many cases these fees can
completely wipe out any retail profit on music sales.
ERA's representations on this matter have not so far resulted in
a lot of progress. One senior PRS executive suggested that perhaps
retailers can regard licence fees as part of their "corporate and
social responsibility" messaging!
So you can imagine that our hopes rose when we received the
letter above last week revealing the news that PRS For Music and
PPL are to form a new joint venture which will provide one-stop
licensing for music users. It is a long-overdue move which should
allow the two organisations to cut costs and streamline
It is clearly wasteful to have two entirely separate
organisations collecting money from the same companies and so the
cost savings should be substantial.
Naturally we therefore assumed that much of these cost
reductions would be passed on to licensees. Unfortunately not. A
PRS and PPL spokesman was swift to quash any such suggestion. Any
cost savings we must assume therefore will be kept by the PRS and
Which rather cuts to the heart of the whole issue. In
competitive markets, when cost savings become available they are
invariably passed on to consumers (ERA members do it all the time).
But PRS and PPL do not of course operate in competitive markets.
They are effectively monopolies.
A meeting of ERA members last week demonstrated that this issue
provokes strong emotions. With selling music only a marginally
profitable activity for many, there is concern that the rising cost
of PRS and PPL licences could even make playing music in store
unviable for some players.
It would be a shame if the announcement of what by any measure
is a progressive move - the coming together of PRS and PPL to bring
new efficiency to public performance licensing - were to become a
catalyst for some major retailers to give up on music entirely.
Bayley on: 25
Friday November 27, 2015
Thoughts on a stellar week for music
It was a week when UK entertainment retailers simply got on with
what they do best: selling entertainment, and literally in
From up and down the country this week the ERA office has heard
reports of the quite extraordinary demand for Adele's25.
And while the headlines have been dominated by25 overtaking
NSYNC's 1991 US week one sales record forNo Strings Attached, UK
retailers have delivered a similar feat: by Wednesday this week
Adele overtook Oasis andBe Here Now which in 1997 scored the
biggest week one sale of any album in the modern era.
There has been much focus on the decision of Adele and her label
XL to withhold the album from streaming services, but by definition
we cannot know what might have happened if25 had been available on
streaming services. One thing is for sure, however: this week
represents a ringing endorsement for the power of the ownership
model and for physical formats in particular.
And in a sense what is most remarkable is how, after years of
the record industry focusing (or so it seemed) exclusively on
digital formats, the "old model" has apparently run like
Apart from a few quibbles from individual retailers unable to
get their hands on the much-coveted vinyl edition of25, there has
been nary a hitch. One leading supermarket reports that in terms of
a major release "the25 campaign has set a new gold standard".
Much of the credit of course must go to Adele's label XL,
but it is true to say that retailers have really pulled out all the
stops from pre-order campaigns (Amazon reported that the title
generated its biggest presale yet) to price offers through to
digital stores offering high quality FLAC formats.
After a period when the music industry has resigned itself
to monetising an ever-declining number of music lovers, the
overwhelming response from the public has been a welcome reminder
of the ability of great music to cut through to a mass market.
Quite simply, quality will out.
And how fitting too that it took an artist who famously
once worked at one of the UK's best indie record shops, Rough
Trade, to produce such an album.
So thank you, Adele. Thank you, XL. And thank you Britain's
entertainment retailers, both digital and physical, for reminding
us just how good a job you can do with the right product.
Kim Bayley on the BVA's Video Insight Seminar
Friday July 17, 2015
Trust a retailer to tell it how it is. That was one clear
takeaway from yesterday's Video Insight Day held by the BVA and
supported by ERA. Amid the glitzy presentation, lavish eats
and hardcore security (attendees had to check in their phones and
sign an NDA!) the presentation from Tesco Non-Food Category
Director Ian Ditcham tackled one of the biggest challenges in the
video industry with laser-precision: the negative effects of early
digital release windows.
The ERA Manifesto, published in February, identified the
"The video industry seems wedded to inconsistent windowing
strategies," we said, "with titles available on download-to-own
platforms far earlier than on physical formats.
"Studios need to adopt windowing strategies that work for the
customer and recognise that a customer should not be forced to
choose between physical and digital."
Ian Ditcham amplified the point at yesterday's event effectively
telling video distributors: releasing digital before physical
reduces the effects of in-store efforts and theatre. In
essence there's no point putting in enormous effort to promote
something which has already lost its sparkle.
Instead, he said, the video industry should look to the
example of the hugely successful games industry which has proven it
can sell digital around physical, growing the overall market,
rather than selling digital at the expense of physical.
The answer he said is more cross category promotion and cross
To be fair many studios have acknowledged the point. In ERA's
rounds of meetings with the video industry to discuss our
Manifesto, many of them have acknowledged the need to do more to
support Blu-ray and DVD.
The point now is surely to back up those kind words with action.
As presentation after presentation pointed out, consumer appetite
for physical formats is still robust. It is way too premature to
push customers towards digital by using artificial windowing