Distribution Crisis Threatens Record Store Day 2020

Can physical media continue to prosper at a time when streaming has all but consumed today’s music industry while the likes of Spotify and Amazon sign up subscribers at unprecedented rates and the distribution chain responsible for shipping most catalog classics and new releases on LP and CD implodes?

It’s a topic weighing heavily on the minds of independent record store owners around the country, not to mention indie labels and artists as Record Store Day 2020 approaches.

Indie shops are struggling to update their inventory in the face of a distribution crisis that boiled over in recent months, causing many to ask: Will the distribution arm of the music biz be able to get its act together in time for the national event set for Saturday April 18.

Stories abound about record shipments delivering two months late, stores missing the 2019 holiday rush, orders mixed up, lost, and damaged or — worse — a shipment of cough syrup turning up instead of a shipment of records, as Rolling Stone recently reported. And then there’s the story of the pallet of windshield-wiper fluid that showed up on the doorstep of one music shop. You can’t make this stuff up.

The culprit: Indianapolis-based Direct Shot Distributing. The company apparently became overwhelmed when it took on physical music distribution for Warner Records last year at a time when it was already handling U.S. distribution for megalabels Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.

“A single company was suddenly responsible for sorting and shipping the vast majority of CDs and records sold in the U.S. market,” according to Rolling Stone.

Adding to the strain, Direct Shot is responsible for distributing a variety of products from a “diverse group of clients” that have nothing to do with music (hence, those crazy inventory mix-ups).

Echoing a concern heard across the indie landscape, Jon Lambert, owner of NJ’s flourishing Princeton Record Exchange, told New Jersey-based news site nj.com, “We’re getting orders we placed two or three months ago — it’s an absolute nightmare.”

Legacy Supply Chain Services, the parent company of Direct Shot, blames its distribution woes on a “perfect storm” of complications including an increase in online ordering, shifts in overseas manufacturing (let’s hope not in China), and changes in how the company deals with retail giants. Legacy executive Kyle Krug told nj.com that Direct Shot was forced to transition from shipping massive bulk orders once a week to megastores like Walmart and Target to “shipping 2,000 store-level orders multiple times a week.”

Despite all the chaos, Krug insists Direct Shot has a plan in place to ensure the needs of independents are met in time for Record Store Day.

While Lambert and others remain cautiously optimistic that the distribution calamity can be reversed, not all shop owners are convinced, with some turning to middlemen distributors to keep record bins full — an approach that can unfortunately lead to an unhealthy combination of slimmer profits and higher store prices.

With Record Store Day only two months away, time will tell whether the distribution powers-that-be will be able to right the ship. We’ll be watching...and listening.

Chris Teeh's picture

The music biz is dead and music these days is horrible! Plus - the iPod/cell phone helped to kill it, AND the camcorder/camera business. Many of us prefer quality over convenience, but majority seems to rule.