Lines formed early for rare Record Store Day releases
When ZZZ Records participated in the first Record Store Day in 2008, there was no line. To counteract the then recent recession, independent record stores banded together to put out limited vinyl releases by acts like Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M. and Billy Bragg. There were about 10 releases that first year and ZZZ owner Nate Niceswanger doesn't remember his shop being especially busy.
Now in its eighth year, Record Store Day is the Ingersoll Avenue record store's busiest day of the year. Vinyl has seen a huge resurgence and this year labels put out around 400 exclusive releases. That includes music from Elvis Presley, The White Stripes, Phish, Gov't Mule and others. Iowa acts are even in on it, with exclusive releases by Stone Sour and The Everly Brothers.
One dedicated fan, Brian Hanish, got in line at 9 p.m. Friday night, 13 hours before the shop opened.
"This is my first Record Store Day, which is probably why I was stupid enough to sit out here last night," Hanish said. Though, for the record, he did duck into his car when overnight rains were at their heaviest.
Brothers Chris and Billy Lambertz, the second and third people in line, arrived at a more reasonable 5:45 a.m. The trio were at the front of a line that grew to more than 50 people before ZZZ Records opened its doors at 10 a.m. Saturday.
"I like the focus on smaller stores and the fact that these albums aren't sold online," Chris Lambertz said. "The wait in line creates a lot of camaraderie."
Collectors who don't make it to the store can turn to sites like eBay, but they'll pay to do so. By 2 p.m. Saturday there were copies of Phish's "New Year's Eve 1995" six LP set and the Red House Painters box set on eBay for $399.99 each. They were pricey at ZZZ, but not that high: $157 for Phish, $200 for Red House Painters.
In general, the regular releases are $20-$40, with 7' and 10" singles going for around $10. It wasn't unusual for shoppers to be checking out with purchases of $100. Hanish and Chris Lambertz spent around $350 each on their selections.
Most of ZZZ's used records sell for $5-$15, but new releases are regularly $20 or above. After being left in the dust of CDs and digital downloads for 30 years, vinyl sales increased by 50 percent in 2015 while other formats have had double digit declines. Despite the big increases, vinyl still only accounts for about two percent of total music sales.
Niceswanger said there's also a trade off for the surge that Record Store Day creates.
"The week before and about two weeks after are slow," Niceswanger said. "So we're trading three weeks of slow business for one really amazing day."
Niceswanger said he regularly sees customers he's never encountered before on Record Store Day, and he hopes that they come back. He also meets customers who freely admit that they don't own a record player; they're just hoping to flip limited releases on eBay like those Phish and Red House Painters sets. Because of that, Niceswanger limits customers to one of each release.
There's also heavy allocation of certain albums on record store day. ZZZ got three copies of The White Stripes' "Get Behind Me Satan" while Record Collector in Iowa City got 18. Record Store Day releases usually get between 1,000 and 5,000 copies pressed. Fourteen hundred stores participate, so stores only get so many copies of releases, some none at all. Labels might decide to prioritize releases to places like California's chain of Amoeba Music over smaller stores in the Midwest.
This week the UK labels Howling Owl Records and Sonic Cathedral released a statement declaring Record Store Day to be dying, saying "Record Store Day is a beautiful concept, but even the most fanciful of flowers will fry when in the sun for too long."
"A lot of people think we're in a bubble, and it's clear this trend can't continue forever even though I would love it to," Niceswanger said. "There's got to be a point where it slows down. As vinyl prices shift up, I think that will turn people away. That's why we put so much focus on our used discs. Our new section has actually shrank."
Collectibles like baseball cards and comic books saw a huge boom and bust in the '90s, though Niceswanger doesn't think record stores will see the same collapse as those hobbies. "Music is a little different. Almost everyone is into it to a certain degree."
For fans who missed out on Saturday's Record Store Day, they don't have to wait a full year for the next one. Since 2010, Record Store Day has also held a Black Friday Record Store day on the day after Thanksgiving with even more limited releases.