The fifth annual Record Store Day begins today, a five-year-old promotion that has exploded into the single biggest sales day of the year for music retailers, and it’s also a day of festivals, live performances, and bargains in some cities.
Since 2007, CDs sales have plummeted 18 to 20 percent per year (except for 2011, when the bleeding was stanched at a 5.6 percent). Last year, for the first time, digital sales surpassed physical discs, taking just over 50 percent of the market. The great store chains of yore — Tower, Peaches, Discount, Virgin — are gone.
And while 900 U.S. independent stores are participating in this year’s special Day — four major ones in Seattle that still deal in new releases — business has turned more and more to used product, accessories, books and clothing. Perhaps the most vivid writing on the wall is that tablets — and the next generation of laptops — do not have CD drives.
“Maybe I’ll be [still] doing this in three or four years,” speculated Scott Kuzma, owner of Portland-based Everyday Music, which just moved into a new location on Capitol Hill. “Or maybe this is my last year.”
Fatalistic resolve is pervasive throughout record retail. In Seattle, both Sonic Boom and Silver Platters have closed branches and almost all retailers report a steady decline. The vinyl LP is making a comeback, but it’s a boutique business.
Back in 2007, things looked more promising to Silver Platters, which then had four stores. The company took a bold, contrarian step by moving into a 42,000-square-foot warehouse on Lower Queen Anne (abandoned by the recently bankrupted Tower Records).Within months, the manager told the owners that the business would be broke by the end of the year. By 2008, that manager — and the store’s majority investors — were gone. .
It’s been a tough go. Silver Platters has gone from 55 to 38 employees since 2007. Overall sales have declined every year. Thanks to Redbox movie-rental kiosks and changing tastes, Batt said, his once-thriving DVD business has been halved. So how has Silver Platters survived?
The big secret, known well enough to anyone who regularly buys and sells albums, is that the markup for used records is 100 percent.
Twenty percent of Silver Platters’ business is now in used CDs.