Friday, March 17, 2006

Erin Go Blah

Maybe it's my dominant Limey/Kraut genes (or the fact that I look like an utter prat in green) but I was never much for St. Patrick's Day. Sure, it was a decent excuse to go out and get bombed back in the days when I did so with a fair degree of frequency, but the day never held any kind of special resonance for me. In fact, heh, I found it rather bothersome dealing with everyone else who did.

Well, today was not a day that did much to change my mindset in that department.

Actually, I should start off with an update from my last personal missive: it is with much relief that I pass along to you the news that last weekend's worrisome car troubles were of minimal financial impact: all it took was a new fuel filter and some cleaning out of the throttle to get it running and starting nominally once again. Hell, I was even able to get the car started on Sunday afternoon, which saved me the logistics and expense of scheduling a tow and then a subsequent ride home. Woo!

OK, there was your good news. The rest of this post is a bit more subdued (and industry-intensive, so if talking record biz shop isn't your thing, I'd move along) ...

All of the drama over the past week was at the store, where we had a pretty tumultuous few days in a row. It all started on Tuesday with the departure from our primary supplier of one of the best salesmen we've ever had the pleasure we had working with, and culminated with our recently-completed commercial wet firecracker of a Friday. Actually, "wet firecracker" is putting it rather kindly -- today flat-out sucked from one end to the other as pretty much anything that could go wrong went ahead and did so, starting with our current new release situation.

The one thing we had most feared losing our old salesman was a subsequent loss of being shipped new release product on Friday instead of industry-standard Monday, and those fears came true today as our new release order for March 21 failed to materialize. Great. To add a bit of insult to injury, the restock order that our supplier did ship wound up headed somewhere else, as it was not on the UPS truck this afternoon either.

So now comes the figuring out of how to handle this new development from the supplier side, and it's a pretty delicate position to negotiate. Selling albums before street-date is not illegal, per se, and aside from the odd superstar project (say, an Emimen release) most of the industry prefers to turn a blind eye to it for two reasons:

1) This practice is almost exclusively in the realm of indie/specialty accounts and therefore nearly impossible to effectively police.

2) As a direct result of the first reason, the numbers involved hardly ever impact the SoundScan charts on a national level since most of these accounts are either not contributing numbers to SoundScan, or those that are hardly ever sell enough records in three days of a given tracking week to make any kind of early splash (for an album to impact the Billboard Top 200, sales of at least 5,500 are needed, give or take a few hundred depending on the time of year). To the best of my recollection, the last time an album charted a week early due to street date violations was sometime in 1997.

The retail end of the music industry has been pretty cutthroat on this end for a while now, and especially in the current market, any advantage is seized upon by the indies, no matter how much trouble it may wind up causing them somewhere down the road. For us, this advantage has been a quirk in the way our orders were processed for a few years that enabled us to get new product three days earlier than we had been able to with any other supplier. As a business, we need Friday shipments to even be able to sell most new releases, since by Monday when everyone has seen the previous days Best Buy/Target/Wal-Mart circulars, having a big new album a day early doesn't seem to mean an awful lot if you are willing to wait 24 hours and buy it for an unmatchable cost across the street. Having long since grown accustomed to Friday releases, we had been dreading this development for a while now, and it looks as if the day has finally come.

Yes, it's very likely that Monday new release shipments probably would not impact our sales of independent or third-tier major releases (since many of them are not carried by the big box accounts named above), but without the ability to get a debatably-ethical four-day head start against The Evil Empire, our major new release buying would drop by nearly two-thirds on any title of respectable stature (that huge opening total we had with the David Gilmour album last week would have been carved nearly in half, for example).

The options we have right now are three:

1) Assuming that timing is everything (and not some wonky shipping error in the computer), we'll talk to our new salesman and attempt to have him move up the processing of our new release order by one day. Our previous contact would process his new release orders on Thursday morning (which I believe is what kick-started the Friday shipment thing in the first place), and it appears that our current representative does this on Friday morning, instead. If he will accept our request, this might be the easiest solution.

2) Should our new salesman balk at this practice (or if he agrees and this still has no effect on our shipments), we'd have little choice but to climb up the ladder a bit and attempt to argue our case at the executive level. It is here that we will likely run into bigger snags, as most middlemen suppliers are the ones penalized by the labels should one of their accounts be caught selling new releases before Tuesday. For that reason, our supplier would certainly be in the right to decline our request, and trying to play hardball with them to convince them to change their minds would likely prove a futile (and ultimately counterproductive) effort.

3) If the above two options do not pan out, we know of the existence of other middleman distributors who can and will ship product for Fridays. However, many of these will add a per-piece surcharge for this privilege, which not only makes this option a last resort, but also one to be used very carefully as it can wind up erasing our ability to price such product competitively.

Fun, huh? It'll certainly be interesting to see how this all pans out from all sides.

That was the big deal this week, the rest of the shit from today was far more low-key, but just added to the general ill mood at work. First off, we are being subjected to an display of intermittent rebellion from our amplifier, which has developed a habit of "overloading" itself lately, which results in an automatic shutdown anytime the music surges past the level of say, ambient noise. Making this problem more vexing is that we cannot poinpoint exactly what the problem is, much less how to fix it once and for all. I've attempted with temporary success to correct this problem about five times now (most recently at around sundown this evening), but as I was getting ready to leave earlier tonight I noticed it was starting to recur once again. I will look at this again tomorrow, and if it this keeps up, I'm just going to disconnect the damn speaker and see if a three-way stereo system will work for us instead as I'm pretty fed up with doing this over and over again.

In the middle of this, the goofballs were out in force this evening -- most notably a truly annoying longtime weirdo we haven't managed to lose from our Great Lakes Mall days who tonight asked me the exact same question about a dozen times in the course of me selling him a used CD and attempting to get rid of him as quickly as possible (and yes, I answered his question each of those dozen times). I thought the full moon was on Wednesday ...

Oh, I almost forgot the cherry on the sundae. Being St. Paddy's Day, there was a hell of a lot of traditional Irish music skiddle-dee-dee'ing out of the stereo as the night dragged on: just the kind of nails-on-chalkboard noise you want to hear when the stereo does work (not to mention while dealing with the people you would least miss if you ever gave up working retail). I can deal with the occasionally snarky and cartoony excesses of The Pogues, sure, but The Clancy Brothers? The Corrs? Fuckin' Riverdance?


NP Various Artists 12"/80s/2

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