Needling The Clientele – Vinyl Prices in 2018

People of a certain age will fondly remember the mid-price CD offers that Woolworths would flood their racks with throughout the year and the ‘Nice Price’ stickers that used to adorn successful titles that had sold their way into hundreds of thousands of homes and could now be offered for less, having recouped costs and some.

More recently, we have been made aware by the smaller labels of how much it costs to do small runs of vinyl and that the only way to get prices down is to do loads or go via not especially consistent manufacturers preferred by the intermediaries who broker the deals. The logical extension of this is, surely, that more popular titles being pressed frequently in order to keep them in stock in the nation’s most passionate supporters of the format, such as HMV and Sainsbury’s, should be cheaper based on quantity. Add in the old mid-price logic that ‘Parklife’ or ‘The Queen Is Dead’ are exceptionally profitable records for their label and it seems perfectly reasonable to expect Warner to be offering them to shops at a price that allows them to be sold well below the ever-increasing, approximately £20-a-pop, new release prices.

And yet news emerged this week, via Transmission and Mo Fidelity Records, that Warner has cranked its dealer price on exactly those catalogue titles and more, with customers likely to have to stump up an extra £10 on top of what they would have paid until now. Costs of production are rising as a consequence of increased demand but largely unchanged capacity, not helped by annual novelty frisbee day releases, but just as blighted by bonkers catalogue reissues whereby a mid-nineties Annie Lennox covers album now sits in the racks for £20.

However, the genius at the heart of all of this price gouging, which seems a not unreasonable claim at this stage, is the largely successful positioning of vinyl as a collectible, deluxe item posited on appearance, not sound. You don’t need a great deal of knowledge about vinyl to be aware that coloured pressings with bizarre patterns running through them will sound like horseshit. They look pretty though. £24 to you, thanks.

As generous as it is of certain labels to do variant coloured editions for independent record shops, it would be nice if they were to ensure the USP of these versions was being well-pressed and well-mastered. It’s quite the novelty these days, but not especially sexy. Increasing prices – and in the case of Warner: inflating prices – while presiding over a notable drop in production quality, does seem a surefire way to stymie the ‘vinyl revival’. Or perhaps the price hikes suggest that labels are spotting a slowing down already underway.

In recent months, I’ve encountered faulty pressings from pretty much all of the major manufacturers, including those I would normally trumpet over the more notorious bargain merchants. The combined impact of churning out more and more bizarre back catalogue from the last thirty years with the urgent need for Shaggy 7”s and Belinda Carlisle box sets ahead of Record Store Day seems to be reducing the quality of the actual product still further.

Vinyl could never have plugged the sales gap caused by the dramatic drop in CD sales towards the end of the noughties and the failure of digital download sales to ignite. However, it was offering a foothold for our beloved independent shops and a totem for inventive labels across the world. By alienating shops with prices and customers with quality, the industry runs the risk of hubristically killing off a beloved format for, remarkably, a second time.