'Mass market streaming growth will create a counter reaction': Secretly Distribution on vinyl's future

'Mass market streaming growth will create a counter reaction': Secretly Distribution on vinyl's future

The rise of vinyl in recent years has seen the majors seize market share as fans embrace the tangible format and more catalogue is reissued.

But while Music Week research has revealed the extent of the majors’ collective market share advances, some indies are still growing – albeit from a relatively low LP sales base. That’s despite a flat vinyl market in Q2, which actually dipped 1.1% year-on-year, according to the Official Charts Company.

Despite the recent dip and squeeze from majors over the past few years, Secretly Group increased vinyl sales by 12.6% year-on-year for the first six months of 2019, following releases including the new album from Sharon Van Etten. The roster also includes Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers and Angel Olsen.

The indie also has a global distribution arm, Secretly Distribution, which handles digital and physical releases for its own labels – Dead Oceans, Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar (Music Week Awards winners in 2017) – as well as label clients such as Captured Tracks, Fat Cat and DFA. Here, Chris Cannon, London-based head of international sales, opens up about the vinyl strategy…

How has Secretly achieved double-digit growth in the first six months of the year?

“Secretly Distribution has a carefully curated label roster who pride themselves on their vinyl releases, and these labels appeal to music lovers who still treasure the album and enjoy the vinyl listening experience. Our range of labels appeal to indie shops who are instrumental in promoting our releases in-store and online and helping us reach their customers.”

Major labels have increased their market share at the expense of other indies – how have you bucked the trend?

“We still take physical formats seriously, and as long as we continue to do that we help sustain the physical market in our own small way. Our infrastructure for physical sales is a carefully considered blend of direct retail customers and strong local distribution partners – sometimes multiple partners in a single market – so we can best suit our eclectic roster of labels. We review our infrastructure often so we are always confident we have the strongest possible partners for our roster in each market. We are constantly seeking the best opportunities to add that extra 10-20% to our sales targets through exclusive colours, value adds, pre-order discounts, in-store marketing and artist in-stores.” 

Secretly Distribution has a carefully curated label roster who pride themselves on their vinyl releases

Chris Cannon

What are the further catalogue opportunities for vinyl?

“We are seeing more and more reissues from our labels – usually these will be titles long out of print or around anniversary years. Reissues with alternative artwork – something very common in the book publishing industry – is a potential growth opportunity. Initiatives such as Rough Trade Essentials are a great opportunity to re-release sought-after titles and help find these classic albums new fans as younger people turn towards vinyl. We have seen vinyl subscription clubs, following the Vinyl Me, Please model, emerging in places like Mexico and France and if they continue to grow their businesses it will lead to more demand for our key catalogue on vinyl.”

Has vinyl growth peaked?

“I think it will remain a niche format but mass market [streaming] growth will always create a counter reaction. So as long as streaming continues to grow exponentially, a certain percentage of music fans will continue to seek out the opposite experience in vinyl. The relatively high price point is vinyl’s double edge sword, it’s vital the margin stays intact for labels so they continue to see the value from it, but it’s a barrier to entry for many people.” 

Can vinyl complement streaming as fans invest in a product to own?

“Streaming and vinyl have very little in common and I don’t see them as competitor formats. The streaming boom and the vinyl resurgence have been hand-in-hand over the past 10 years. And even with high-resolution streaming, certain music fans will always value the tangible, collectible, personal nature of records and enjoy the experience of browsing in record shops.” 

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