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An Open Letter to the Majors From Independent Record Stores (Guest Op-Ed)

Dozens of independent retailers, fed up with the current major distribution system, pen an open letter to the major labels about some of their biggest frustrations.

In 2007 things were bleak. Record stores were successful but irrelevant in the eyes of many in the music industry. In response, independent record stores owners got organized and created Record Store Day (RSD). By doing so, the world’s largest music event was established and a billion-dollar-per-year vinyl industry was relaunched. Last year’s RSD was the biggest ever, as were our Black Friday and Small Business Saturday events, breaking all previous sales records. Unsung in the ensuing positive press coverage was the amount of CDs sold on our big day. With so many other businesses leaving the CD behind, record stores are still selling substantial numbers. With the help of our industry partners we continue to adapt and thrive.

Not everything is rosy; things have been rough over the past 3-4 months. Just last week, Michael Bunnell, the owner of Boise’s Record Exchange and President of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, sent a message out about how bad things have gotten.

But this isn’t about Record Store Day, or a store owner or an independent retail coalition. This is much bigger: It is impacting the distribution of all physical music retail.


Here is what has happened.

In an effort to streamline operations, the majors and the largest independent distributors moved their services to a company called Direct Shot. The admirable goals were to increase efficiency and reduce costs but the results have been terrible:

— Stores are waiting on new release and catalog orders that were made weeks and months ago.
— Shipments arrive with a fraction of the CDs and vinyl ordered.
— Shipments arrive as empty boxes.
— Artist in-store appearances and marketing campaigns happen without proper product.
— Special edition vinyl, made for indie stores by the artists who support them, never arrive or come too late.
— Vinyl and CDs are sent to the wrong stores with no way of getting them returned or reshipped to the correct address.
— New releases miss the Friday street date by days, weeks and now months.
— Invoices do not match what was delivered or ordered.
— Incorrect invoices require payment with no system in place for rectifying the mistakes or for making returns.

The end result has been a lot of misery. Store owners who once enjoyed running their stores and turning people onto music are left trying to make sense of a new system that doesn’t provide customer service or allow humans to communicate and solve problems. All the while, employees who work for the labels and distributors are struggling to function under the strain. The customers who shop at record stores are leaving empty handed, shaking their heads in disbelief. Lost sales, lost credibility and wasted man-hours. It is about as bad as it can be.


This message is a respectful plea to the folks who chose Direct Shot as their warehouse and distribution system. Artists and record stores must be able to depend on the supply chain. Product delivery in a timely, accurate manner should be the most basic priority of a distribution company.

This is a warehouse problem that is affecting every distributor that uses the Indiana-based Direct Shot system. It is a problem that warrants a collaborative, cohesive solution. All shipments are affected. All orders are affected. This is not just a new release problem, it is dramatically affecting catalog sales.

Singular platforms and standards for ordering, billing, shipping, customer service and returns should be developed. The industry came together for Sensormatic source tagging and street date. Rather than have every company trying to solve the same problems, there needs to be a cooperative effort to provide a superior model. It’s all the same barcodes, data and media on the backend.

We realize that work is being done to improve this dire situation, but this letter is a notification that extensive harm has already been done: lost sales, lost customers and lost confidence. We need a solution in the coming weeks to stem more damage to an important part of the music businesses’ ecosystem. We are asking you to please create state of the art distribution now and communicate your progress on the implementation so that confidence can return.

The record stores, artists, labels and fans deserve better.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The Sound Garden, Baltimore/Syracuse; CIMS/The Record Exchange, Boise, Idaho; Rough Trade, Brooklyn, NY; Amoeba Music, Los Angeles; Waterloo Records, Austin, Texas; Twist and Shout, Denver, Colo.; Easy Street, Seattle, Wash.; Newbury Comics, New England; Bull Moose, Maine; ZIA Record Exchange- Arizona/Nevada; Music Millennium, Portland, Ore.; Salzers, Ventura, Calif.; Silver Platters, Seattle; Electric Fetus, Minneapolis and Duluth, Minn.; Down In The Valley, Minneapolis; Monster Music & Movies, Charleston, S.C.; Young Ones, Kutztown, Pa.; Independent Records, Colorado; Graywhale Entertainment- Salt Lake City, Utah; Rasputin Music Chain, Calif., California; Josey Records, Dallas, Kansas City, Tulsa, Okla., and Lubbock, Texas; Vintage Vinyl, Fords, N.J. Rhino Records/Mad Platter, Claremont, Calif.; Tunes Music, Hoboken, N.J.; Homers Music, Omaha, Neb.; Pure Pop, Burlington, Vt.; Lou’s Records, Encinitas, Calif; Strictly Discs, Madison, Wis.; Omega Music, Dayton, Ohio; Dearborn Music, Dearborn, Mich.; Central Square Records, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.; Indy CD and Vinyl, Indianapolis; Park Avenue CDs, Orlando, Fla.; Plan 9 Music, Richmond, Va.; Cactus Music, Houston, Tx.; Wooden Nickel Records, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Magnolia Thunderpussy, Columbus, Ohio; Looney Tunes, West Babylon, N.Y.; Schoolkids Records, North Carolina; Rock Paper Scissors Goods, Minneapolis; Reckless Records, Chicago, Ill.