Vinyl Shortage, Higher Prices Challenge Independent Record Stores
Independent record stores faced a unique set of challenges in 2020 amid the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, some of those stores are facing some challenges with simple supply and demand.
The days of the independent record store seemed over in the early 2000s as physical, recorded media slipped into declining sales amid the arrival of streaming and downloads.
But the industry rallied, thanks in part to a resurgent interest in vinyl records. Some stores, such as Spektrum Muzik, located in Wichita's Delano district, benefit from the sales of used and new records.
Independent record stores were among the many small businesses that suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Stores managed to diversify by dealing with curbside pickup of records, mail order and creating unique merchandise for customers.
But for most vinyl enthusiasts, nothing could quite replace the feeling of those luxurious browsing sessions where the flip of a record in the bin could reveal a buried treasure.
With restrictions on retail lifting in 2021, record stores are finding some solid footing with consumers, but are still facing a few challenges. There's a global vinyl shortage at the moment with the precious few pressing plants around the globe buried in a backlog of orders. Some independent recording artists and labels are now reporting a lag time approaching 12 months.
This as the price of vinyl, like many products, continues to increase by increments small and large.
Kirsten Turner, Spektrum Muzik's manager, says that business has been returning to something approaching normal but that independent record stores still have challenges ahead.
Record stores can serve as social hubs. What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on that part of the store culture?
I feel like we're just now seeing things feel "normal" again. Up until this point, the social aspect has, unfortunately, kind of disappeared, which is a big bummer for us. That's kind of the whole reason we do this: The community aspect and connecting with people in the community, or sponsoring shows or just being more connected with our customers.
People are getting out and feeling a little bit more safe now. There are all these customers that I'm seeing for the first time with no mask; it's kind of like we're meeting for the first time: "Oh, that's who you were!" Because your brain wants to create their face but it's never accurate.
You specialize in vinyl and there's a vinyl shortage right now. There are reports of it taking between seven and 10 months to get a record pressed. This is your lifeblood. Do you feel that pinch?
I think that the artists would be feeling it more than we are because the reason that they're getting pushed back is because [albums like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours are] are always getting the first dibs [on presses]. These popular titles that can be our bread and butter, we haven't really had issues. [But, in other cases] the demand has gone up but the supply is just not at a good point. It's good and bad for us. We're still able to order as many new records as possible, but I do feel bad for anyone who's not a huge, mega-famous artist because it just seems like their capacity to get something pressed is impossible right now. We run into things with specific titles: "What do you mean the first Metallica album's not pressed?" Until they get their line again, we're not going to get that. It could be another year.
Vinyl already has a slightly higher price, and I imagine it's creeping upward.
That's the biggest bummer for us, too. You stand behind the wall and hear people say, "$40 dollars for an album?" They might think that we're getting all the benefit of that but our costs have gone up, too. We're not making any more than we were in past years, and I'm worried about how far this is going to go. Are we really going to be spending $60 on two LPs? That seems insane. But it also seems like we haven't hit the peak yet, which is a little bit concerning for us. This isn't supposed to be a place you have to go and spend a ton of money at, unless you want to. But I'm going to miss the days when you could get an LP for $20. I feel like that's disappearing. Somebody's making a lot more money, but it's not us.
I've heard some artists complain that vinyl is an expensive item to produce, so the profit margin is low. That can be the same for retail.
It's a convenience to always be able to have every Beatle album in stock but the cost is so high. It just keeps increasing like every six months; I feel like, "Oh, it's gone up another $2." Somebody's controlling that, I understand.
Some have taken this as a sign that the CD will re-emerge as the dominant format. They're easier to produce and more cost-effective.
I would have assumed by now CDs have dropped off. But, after vinyl, I would say CDs are our next top seller, and we don't really order in new CDs. All of our CD collection is mostly stuff that people have sold to us. I would think that, at some point, people are going to say, "OK, I'm tired of paying too much for vinyl. I'm going to switch to another format." I could see that being CDs but not so much with younger people. I really only see that [happening] with people 40 and up. [For younger people], I'd say it would be tapes, if for nothing more than the aesthetic of it.
What's the best way to support a small business like yours?
We can't deny the power that these big box stores are going to have now that they see that there's money to be made [in vinyl sales]. I can understand why, when you're browsing Target, you hit the vinyl section, you've got this Target limited edition pressing [and it's exciting]. But I would just say to those people if you get into it enough, I think you'll eventually find your way to a record store, no matter what.