The Music Industry Is Still Finding Ways to Depress Record Store Owners

Remember this place? Record labels don’t seem to, anymore.

Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Brick-and-mortar music stores, especially independent ones, are used to indignities these days. Amid the rises of online downloads and now music-streaming services, it’s taken every ounce of effort for record stores to cling to their sales—and their dignity. Though vinyl record sales have been making a comeback for several years, music stores themselves have been dropping like flies. The latest blow comes in the form of a global shake-up not in the way music is distributed, but the timing of it. For more than two decades, the typical day for releasing new albums in the U.S. was Tuesday, affectionately dubbed “Music Tuesday” by diehard fans who would trek to stores on the same day each week. Starting on Friday, that standard release date will be changed to Friday. Record labels announced earlier this year that July 10 would be the first “New Music Friday.”

There are good reasons for the change. Before it happened, new music used to come out on different days of the week in different countries. This meant that an album or single released in one country could be leaked to another country days ahead of its official release date, leading to rampant illegal downloads from overeager fans. To curb music pirating and boost album sales, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry—a giant trade group representing more than 1,000 record labels—decided to sync up global releases and universally move them to Fridays. “In today’s digital world the old system of national release days doesn’t make sense,” the IFPI explained. Not all countries are on board with the date change, but labels in 45 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, and Australia, are participating.

While the change is excellent for record companies, digital platforms like iTunes, and artists sensitive to piracy, it’s a disaster for stores that carry physical records. Music stores organize a lot of things around music release dates. A sudden change to a release date that was held as a standard for 25 years means a terrible hassle for stores: They have to change up their anticipated revenue patterns, promotional agendas, and staff hours, among other routines. A Friday release date means that stores can’t quickly order more copies of albums that sell out on the first day, which could drive customers to just buy the music online instead. And setting the release date on Friday might mean that in the event of hotly anticipated releases, stores might draw scores of customers over the weekend and then sit empty for an entire week until the next Friday. A manager at Homer’s Music in Nebraska called the change a “weird, kind of creepy, behind-the-scenes decision” that felt like it was being “crammed down our throats.” The co-founder of Amoeba Music, a large independent record store in Hollywood, told NPR that the new release date is just “another nail in the coffin” for physical music stores, and that “it’s kind of sad that no one takes any of that into account when they make these kind of fundamental changes in the way things work.”

Not that the music industry would feel much pressure to consult these stores. The CEO of IFPI, Frances Moore, said to Billboard last month that the change “was done primarily for the consumer.” IFPI has made huge efforts to sell the new release date on consumers, most conspicuously through a branding effort to make “New Music Fridays” a popular term. Press releases from Sony and other industry giants about the new release date hardly make any mention of physical stores, focusing instead on buzzwords like “borderless world” and “global fan base.” The era of the venerated neighborhood record store is coming to an end, and the fact that the music industry doesn’t care at all just adds insult to injury.