For the record, we support you!
When was the last time you bought a CD? I doubt it was this year. Perhaps at Christmas when you were in need of an emergency present for a forgotten relative. No one is surprised to hear it’s a dying industry.
What might be surprising is what some of the big brands are doing to save it. Last Saturday was the sixth annual national Record Store Day – an event designed to celebrate the UK's unique independent sector. Universal, EMI, Warner and Sony are just some of the major record labels that joined the scheme, providing special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products made exclusively available in the UK’s dwindling number of independent stores.
I should admit I have a vested interest in the project. My parents are among the last standing independent record store owners. Their small chain for shops, called Gatefield Sounds, in Kent’s coastal towns, has survived Amazon and iTunes and is still turning a profit.
Record Day has become Gatefield Sounds’ busiest day of the year, with music fans trekking across the country and queuing outside the small shop from 7am to get their hands on exclusive content. While I’m sure other independents would also consider the initiative a resounding success, their ongoing survival will not be as a result of one good day’s takings. It raises an interesting question – should these big brands be doing more to help the little guy?
Ten years ago, the independents were still be invited to lavish events and album launches courtesy of the record companies, but all they really needed were a couple of Coldplay posters for a window display, or beneficial terms to help them compete with the supermarkets and the online world. These global corporations appeared to be out of touch with the needs of those on the front line.
It isn’t just the independent record stores that are suffering. The high street is being hit from all angles, whether it’s coffee shops losing out to the likes of Starbucks and Costa or supermarkets driving consumers out of town for their weekly food shops instead of to their local greengrocers and butchers. But is it their problem? Do the big brands actually have a responsibility to ensure the local community doesn’t suffer as a result of their success?
Earlier this month Boots, JD Wetherspoon, Lloyds and Marks & Spencer were among some of the leading brands announced to be backing a campaign, “High Street Champions”, to regenerate Britain’s embattled high streets. It’s fantastic to see them applying their considerably weight to bolster, rather than flatten, the little guy – after all it’s our high streets that give our local towns their life and personality.
As these initiatives continue to garner public support, it won’t be long before this new wave of CSR activity will see the big brands’ support for small shops and hard-hit high streets will be a key component of their communications strategy. However, for both the big brands and the independents to be successful, the needs of the local stores will need to be carefully considered. I can’t help but think it’s the little and often approach, rather than a flashy campaign that will make the real difference.