It is a sad day for DJs and electronic music producers. The website of Watts Music, America’s largest distributor of dance vinyl, has announced it is officially closed for business. Most people have never heard of Watts, even if they are a DJ, but they have been directly responsible for moving tons and tons of vinyl every year from Europe to America and vice-versa.
Just to give you perspective, I run a small label with some of my friends, and when we release a record, we look to distributors to buy up some of our stock and move it to stores overseas and domestically. In a couple of cases Watts has been there for us, and probably for thousands of other little labels. Without them, we have even fewer options: Forced Exposure and Syntax most likely. Under the pressure of the closure of Watts, competition for these smaller distributors will get even more intense, and labels like ours will have no option but to turn to fully digital distribution. This means that our days of making records is over, unless we’re prepared to pay for the production, marketing and shipping costs of every copy.
In the next few months the breadth and depth of vinyl at your local record store will start to dwindle. Labels that were being distributed by Watts will have to seek other means, and in some cases they may be forced to stop shipping internationally. Within a few months I would guess that their effect will be fully visible, where DJs find it hard to get their favorite labels without ordering on the internet. It’s hard to say how this will impact the electronic music scene, but it is bound to have a large and immediate effect.
For such a big distributor to close is a powerful omen: vinyl is dead. Well, in the US anyway. Rest in peace.