Saturday, August 08, 2009

An open letter to Sugarland

Dear Sugarland,

About five minutes before we started writing this letter, a customer walked in and inquired about your new CD/DVD release, Live on the Inside. “Do you know if it’s out yet?” she asked. We said that, yes, it was released Tuesday, but that we were not allowed to sell it. She’d have to go to Walmart to get it. “Walmart?” she replied, with an incredulous look. “Really?” She left disappointed, and frankly, we’re disappointed as well.

You guys have been around roughly as long as Decatur CD, and we’ve been supporters of your music from day one. We’ve put your releases on listening stations, given away tickets to your shows and so on. After all, what is a local music scene if not an extended family of sorts? We have to take care of each other.The point is that by shutting the door on independent record stores, you’re in effect shutting the door on your hometown.

We’re not naïve. We understand that exclusively releasing your music with Walmart means big, fat, non-returnable, guaranteed sales, a wide reach, a truckload of money, etc., but what do you get by cutting us out? We’ve read the articles; we understand you think we're insignificant, offhandedly commenting that there are only "two or three" record stores left. But a lot of your fans in the city where you got your start think rather highly of us. They like to buy local. They like to support independent business. Eddie's Attic, another local/independent business, is right down the street. A lot of the people who saw you there in the early days frequent Decatur CD. It’s impossible for us to serve them if you won’t let us.

Take Pearl Jam as an example. For their forthcoming album, Backspacer, Target will be the only big-box retailer who stocks it. But guess what? Independent stores like us, Criminal, Grimey’s, Waterloo, Other Music, Reckless Records and the like (Look, we just listed more than two or three!), real brick and mortar stores that care more about music than any big box ever will (we live for music; we don't merely stock it as a loss leader), can still order the album through an independent distributor. If you insist on striking a deal with a major brand, that's the way it should be done.

Not ones to gripe about a problem without bringing a solution to the table, we present the following proposal: Since we can’t get your new release through our usual means, how about you bring it by the store? Just stop by and sell it to us direct. You know, like a local band. We won’t tell Walmart and you won’t either. Everybody wins! We think this is a fair compromise. According to the tour dates on your website, you’ll be in the area (Alpharetta, to be exact) on Sept. 26th. We hope to see you then. In the meantime, we’ll be turning away customers when they ask for your new album, which is not good for you or for us.

Decatur CD



At 10:59 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

You are right, and thanks for the suggestion. I am in Houston for a show right now but will come by the store when I get home on Wednesday and bring you a few boxes of discs, We can peel off the Wal-Mart stickers together while we catch up. -Kristian

At 11:23 AM, Blogger The Security Chicken said...

Thanks for the response! We'll see you then.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger rp said...

Your open letter to Sugarland worked! Yay!

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Samantha said...


At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Record stores ROCK!

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This is a great story. So glad you made the effort to contact the band. Nicely done.

At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Marc said...

I knew this country band rocked!

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An open letter to Decatur CD,

Why was I able to buy the new Wilco CD for cheaper at the big box store, Best Buy (I think it was $13.99), than down the street at my favorite local record store, Decatur CD? To make matters worse, Wilco's cd was $1 more than the other new releases and many of the other cds in the store. Wilco is obviously a popular band with people from Decatur, so were y'all just trying to get a few extra bucks from the "fan base"? It's hard to swallow a $16 price tag for a CD. But if it were something less popular than Wilco and less likely to sell right away at a independent record store, I would be willing to pay the extra bucks. But Wilco? Nope. I might as well go to Borders or Tower Records circa 1998 for that price.

Mr. Persnickety

At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Persnickety,

Surely you can't be as clueless as you sound. Didn't you read the post? Click on the "loss leader" link and maybe you'll realize what separates the Best Buys from the Decatur CDs of the world. Those big stores not only get lower prices because they're massive, but they also can afford to lose money on pesky little things like CDs (of which, you'll notice, they have less and less of these days) when they're making the big cash on stuff like refrigerators and computers. Guess what else? Wilco is on a major label. Wonder who might be charging a lot for their CDs? Hmmm. How dare you accuse a hometown store of jacking the prices.

Miss Anon

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Eliot said...

Mr. Persnickety,

Most of our CDs are a $14.98 list price, which we can sell at $14. Wilco's list price, however, is $18.98, which we sell for $16. If you pre-order the CD (shameless plug), like many people did, you can buy it for $14--equal to the price of Big Box Mart.

We wish we could compete with Best Buy, but as Miss Anon pointed out, we just cannot. If we sold Wilco for $14, we'd barely make $1 per CD.


At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This obnoxious behavior on the part of the owner of Decatur CD is precisely why I don't shop there anymore. And Kristian, being the kind of guy he is, rose to the occassion and your pettiness. Betcha you won't be selling it for $12 either!

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your open letter got a shout out on WKHX this morning.... I will drive to Decatur from North Gwinnett to purchase the CD/DVD in order to support a locally owned store rather than a large corporation. Thank you for bringing this out in the open for all! See you soon, wish I could come and sit with you and Kristian.

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Concert Goer said...

Kudos!! I really think it is great of Kristian to step up and try to provide CD's. And way to speak out about how rough it can be for independent record stores, Decatur CD. Also, Sugarland fans: for those of you who would like to see Sugarland LIVE, they will be performing at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on September 26. Make sure you get your tickets today, before its sold out!

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Eliot said...

With all due respect, Anonymous, if trying to stock a CD our customers want to hear is petty, then we are proud to be petty.


At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow! cool! i live near Boston, and Newbury Comics is my record store, would never ever buy a record from Walmart. I'm even a huge fan of the Sugarland, know a couple of them personally, and STILL wont buy a record at walmart, keeping independant records stores viable and lively is that important, local is best!

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i will just say that i don't care for the exclusivity of selling any cd through one store. people like to have choices one way or another. some people choose to buy cd's from decatur cd and pay more than they would at best buy or walmart just to keep the "little guy" in business and keep the big box stores at bay. i still think that i would prefer to have a choice of where to pick up the latest sugarland cd since i pretty much try my hardest NEVER to shop at walmart. very sad too since i am a HUGE sugarland fan:( i still wish the band the best of luck, but won't be buying their latest cd. i do have all of their previous cd's including "premium quality tunes" and even the JNB and Soul Miner's stuff.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Austin said...

Hey gang,

First of all, thanks to all of you for following this story and giving us your feedback. We never imagined it would get to this level, and we're humbled to say the least.

Kristian, true to his word, stopped by the store today. He purchased some great music and chatted with Warren for a good, long while. In short, he was a stand-up guy all around.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances out of everyone's control, Decatur CD will not be stocking the new Sugarland release. Sorry to anyone who was planning to get it from us.

Thanks again for your support. We'll be in touch soon with more, as usual...

At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kristian sounds like a solid guy, but Decatur CD still sounds like a place that chooses to be fuzzy about the details. Your "list price" garble has nothing to do with the actual cost you pay to stock a CD on your shelf. Decatur CD, how much does it cost you for the Wilco CD you so graciously sell for $16? Telling us you sell it for less than the suggested sticker price is silly.
Also, the folks who say the open letter to Sugarland "worked" are wrong. Nothing has changed. Zero. Sugarland can't sell their music at Decatur CD because they don't even own the rights to sell their music. They're a band. They don't sell anything. They play and record under contract. They also likely don't own the publishing rights to their music. They are a wonderful band that has signed a contract that allows others to do so. Like all bands of that magnitude, they control very little once it leaves the fretboard.
It's like me writing an open letter to my dog seeking world peace.
Saying "it's all better now, Kristian dropped by" means there wasn't much an issue to begin with. Just a few people with money wanting more money. Sorry if that all sounds a bit pissy, but call it for what it is. Online grandstanding over profit margins, regardless of scale. No wonder indie record stores fail so hard. They're too busy being fascinated by their own hipster cred.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Lucas Church said...

To the anonymous folks:

Some of this is going to be repeating what others have said, but it seems like you're not listening.

Independents like Decatur CD cannot buy thousands of a particular title. They probably buy less than 10 for most titles and maybe in the low hundreds for something hugely popular. This is speculation on my part, but when I worked for an independent record/video store purchase price for mainstream (i.e. major label) product was about 13 bucks. That was five years ago and I'd wager prices have gone up since then.

Decatur CD isn't making bank on your one Wilco purchase (a band signed to Nonesuch, a subsidiary of Warner Bros). They might make 2 to 3 dollars per, which is on the low end of fair in my opinion.

No one said it's "all better" since the Sugarland guy showed up. It seems that the consensus is that he's a decent guy who has made a tough (and shitty) business decision so he can sell more of the music he makes.

Maybe Sugarland don't have 100% control over who sells their music, but they aren't powerless either.

Don't mix your contempt for indie record stores with the original point of the letter: Sugarland grew, in part, because of local support from places like Eddie's Attic and Decatur CD. A band will not receive that sort of support via Wal-mart if they're unknown. Sugarland became known through the local community and now the community feels that the band has turned their backs on them through this special big-box store deal.

And as far as grandstanding online goes, the only examples of that I've seen here are the ones tagged "anonymous."

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Dear Anonymous,

Not sure how "fuzzy" Decatur CD was being when Young Eliot clearly said, "If we sold Wilco for $14, we'd barely make $1 per CD." Do the math; it's not hard. Sounds like they pay about $13 for the CD, which means they make about $3 when they sell it for $16. Hardly a profit margin to speak of. Plus, the pre-order option makes the entire argument moot anyway!

And where did the ranting about hipster cred come from, exactly? I've found the good folks of DCD to be far from standoffish hipsters. Just because you got made fun of at a record store once doesn't mean all stores of that type fit the High Fidelity mode. Get over yourself and trying signing your name next time.

Quite sincerely,

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Eliot said...

Thanks for everyone who commented. We really appreciate both the support and the discussion.

First of all, I want to reiterate that Kristian did everything he could and was just incredibly nice. The fact that he came by the store indicates, in my opinion, that he has gone above and beyond. Plus he bought a CD by the National, who are a great band.

Secondly, to answer Anonymous's question more directly, we pay $12.75 for the Wilco CD. As Jeff pointed out, $3.25 is not a very good margin. To sell the CD for $14 is profit suicide--but we offer that as a pre-order price anyway because we realize that $16 is a lot to pay for a CD.


At 9:36 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

One comment directed at the anonymous naysayers: when was the last time Wal-mart served you up some excellent high gravity microbrews along with live music by the likes of the Meat Puppets, Caroline Herring, and Deke Dickerson to name just a few among many?

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for your direct answer to my question about why the new Wilco CD costs more than others in the store. I wonder why Nonesuch and Warner charge more than others? My guess is that they have to cover the cost of those silly cardboard sleeves they put around each of their CDs (Has anyone found a use for these things? Xmas presents for Grandma?). Or actually, I bet it has something to do with being a semi-independent label with not as much financial backing from Warner as Warner's primary artists. Then again, it's hard to believe that Wilco and Nonesuch are doing so bad these days.

One more thing to chew on --I've been buying CDs for a long time and usually when you buy a new release the first couple of weeks after it comes out, the CD is on sale for a $2 discount to get more people to buy the CD and to get turned onto the band. Thereby, creating more revenue for the record store. I miss those good old days. I guess nowadays, it's all about the presale.

And Miss Anon, I'm sorry for making you so mad.

Mr. Persnickety

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I first heard of this on 11 Alive News. I knew Kristian would be there just like he said he would. I do not personally know Kristian or Jennifer but they definitely come across as good and honest people. Glad to hear that I am not wrong in this case. I am sure it was very difficult for him not to be able to leave any cds.

At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Lindsay said...

My personal response to Sugarland and Decatur CD

At 4:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True to his word? Why couldn't he leave some of the new release with you to sell? Who, exactly was going to have a problem with it? It's 1/2 his band. Maybe he needs to grow a pair and do what he said he was going to do and give you some discs to sell.

I can't think of a single musical hero of mine that would allow some corporate imperative to prevent him from doing what he promised to do, especially when it is something so insiginificant and something he promised your establishment.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Teresa Kravtin said...

There is a group called The 3/50 Project that supports independent businesses of all types, struggling to thrive in this big box world. "Saving the brick and mortar stores our nation was built on." Check it out.

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