record store day kim bayley

Record Store Day boss Kim Bayley on vinyl sales, delays and the pandemic: “We’ve actually seen more shops open than close”

It’s no coincidence that vinyl has boomed since Record Store Day launched in 2008.

Vinyl sales have grown every year since then, with RSD providing a welcome annual spike, and are now at their highest level since the early ‘90s. Record Store Day itself, meanwhile, is now such a big deal that this year’s RSD ambassador is Noel Gallagher.

Indeed, the vinyl revival is so strong that not even a global pandemic has been able to slow it down. Record Store Day shops may have been closed for much of the past year, but a combination of resilience and innovation has seen independent retail thrive and vinyl sales surge. More than one million units were sold during Q1, a year-on-year increase of 16.1%.

Thanks to the pandemic, last year’s Record Store Day was held across three different dates in late summer and autumn rather than its traditional single day in April. And this year’s event will also mix up the format and date, with two days – June 12 and July 17 – potentially either side of the government’s final relaxation of coronavirus restrictions.

Of course, that June 21 ‘freedom day’ looks increasingly precarious, given the resurgence of cases, but RSD – and vinyl in general – also has other issues to deal with. In recent weeks, social media has been awash with industry figures complaining about vinyl capacity issues and pressing delays.

So, as we celebrate RSD 2021, could the vinyl revival grind to a halt? I sat down with Kim Bayley – chief executive of the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), which organises Record Store Day – to discuss the state of play with RSD and physical retail in general…

How are things looking for this year’s event?

“It’s looking great. We’ve got an amazing line-up of product considering all the delays that have happened at pressing plants and the traumas of last year. We have 250 shops taking part, which is high as ever – and the shops are excited to get back into it.”

Given the surge in online vinyl sales during the pandemic, do people still need physical record shops in the same way?

“They do. What you don’t get and can never get online is that feeling of browsing and talking to someone in a shop about what’s out this week or what you might like. What we saw when the shops opened up was customers going back into stores because they missed that side of things. I’m not sure anyone actually enjoys online shopping, they do it because they have to.”

With sales levels higher than they’ve been for decades, can the vinyl resurgence actually get any bigger?

“It is getting bigger every year. This year, we’re already 35% up on unit terms on last year, which was the biggest year so far [since the revival]. And that’s with pressing delays. The reality is, it would probably be more than that, if we actually had the volume of product that we could sell. The real fan-based sales are moving to vinyl rather than CD, the growth is coming from the under-25s who are discovering vinyl for the first time. If that kicks on with each generation, there’s no reason why it can’t continue.”

Vinyl could overtake CD in value terms this year – so do you need a Record Store Day for CDs?

“It’s one of those things that we look at and think, ‘Do we need to revive the format?’ But what we’re seeing is fans move to vinyl – we don’t want to force them to buy CD if they don’t want to. It’s by no means dead yet, it isn’t on its knees like vinyl was when Record Store Day started. At the moment, we are trying to give customers the choice of which format they want to buy.”

What’s causing the big vinyl delays?

“Just the sheer volume of product we want to get through the pressing plants. If vinyl’s growing at 30-35% year-on-year, that creates its own problems, because we were pretty much at capacity before. Coronavirus has also had some impact with staff shortages and some factories having to run on reduced capacity. I suspect we’re a year away from things settling down again. But we’ve got some new UK plants coming on stream and additional capacity worldwide, so it will all resolve.”

Are you surprised the music industry hasn’t come up with a long-term capacity solution?

“Well, part of it was everyone kept thinking this might plateau. For several years there was a feeling that this was just a fad and we’ve only just got to the point where people have realised vinyl is here to stay. By which point, there weren’t any pressing plants that you could de-mothball. [The industry is] not good at investing into the distribution or manufacturing side of the business anymore, it’s not what they do, so it’s probably up to other people to invest in those plants.”

Some new releases by major label artists are seeing record-breaking vinyl sales. Is there concern over smaller labels being squeezed out?

“There will always be certain artists who can’t get their stuff manufactured fast enough, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a difference between majors and indies. When I speak to the majors they’ve got just as many issues in getting their stuff through the plants. All labels – small or large – are pre-booking capacity at the plants for whatever they need.”

It must be frustrating for shops when the vinyl album comes out long after the other editions though?

“That’s the most frustrating thing, you lose momentum if the vinyl comes six months later. But it’s not impossible. The whole ethos behind Record Store Day is, quite often things are released on vinyl many years after the original version, albeit on a different colour vinyl or whatever. It just means we have to work harder marketing it to people and that’s what the indie shops have done really well over the last few years; making sure their customers know about releases that are coming later.”

Many new releases are also playing the limited edition/coloured vinyl game that is Record Store Day’s stock-in-trade. Does that reduce the special feel of RSD releases?

“It’s a slight danger, but the labels are responding to fan demand – and the demand is to have different coloured vinyls and special releases throughout the year. From the shops’ perspective, it’s great to have a steady stream of these exclusive releases. Record Store Day has never just been about the releases, it’s about celebrating your local record shop, so I hope we keep that.”

At the start of the pandemic, people were worried whether record shops would survive. How are things looking now?

“In our membership, we’ve seen one or two shops closed, but usually due to people retiring. We’ve actually seen more shops open than close. Because vinyl is growing and it’s an exciting market to be in, those people who want to open shops on the High Street are getting good deals on their rent and deciding to open up.”

How about bigger music retailers such as HMV and the supermarkets?

“It was probably harder for a lot of them. The biggest challenge for supermarkets has not been from the music sector; it’s been a lack of DVD content. There has been less footfall in the entertainment aisles because you weren’t getting the big new film releases that drive traffic. HMV seem to have come back once they were able to open and they did reasonably well online whilst they were closed. But footfall is slower than all retailers would like – generally there’s still nervousness around people shopping on the High Street, it’s not such a pleasant experience when you’ve got to wear a mask and there’s only two people allowed in the shop at one time.”

And generally, how do you feel about the future of retail?

“We feel fairly positive. We’ve seen how the shops have responded to this over the last year. They seem to be coping well. They’ve retained their customers, some have grown sales and built new businesses online, so many of our stores have set themselves up for a better future, rather than a difficult future, because they’ve now got several channels to reach their customers. Hopefully Record Store Day is a good reason to celebrate that.”

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