Fading into the shadows after the development of the compact disc, vinyl records have been experiencing a major comeback over the past decade, generating revenue for artists and stores across the board. Yet, independent record stores are being cut out of the deal by artists and record labels, despite once being a major player in attracting attention to this musical format.

The recent release of Taylor Swift’s 11th album, The Tortured Poets Department, best highlights how the business approach of major artists and record labels could be hurting indie record stores. By Swift’s album release date, many Swifties who wanted a physical copy of the artist’s new album had already pre-ordered directly from Swift’s online store. This could be done in February or during one of the musician’s several special-edition flash sales that she announced over social media. 

This business approach is called direct-to-consumer (D2C), involving the music artists setting up their own online stores to sell albums and other merchandise directly to fans. But this method isn’t distinct to The Tortured Poets Department, as Beyoncé’s most recent album, Cowboy Carter, followed an identical pattern. 

The D2C business model is the likely result of the challenges the music industry faces today. From low album sales to low royalties from streaming services, artists are left with touring and merchandise as their primary ways to make an income in the music industry. Unfortunately, this model is cutting out independent record stores and hurting the businesses that existed long before vinyl records’ recent comeback. 

For many, indie record stores played a major role in keeping the warm, authentic sounds that came from vinyl records alive during the peak of CDs and the early years of MP3. Now, these stores aren’t just being cut out from the excitement of new releases. Major artists and record labels are enticing fans with “exclusives,” hoping to prompt purchases of multiple copies of a record by offering variants that each have special features, often available strictly through the artist’s website or a major retailer. 

A prime example of this is Swift’s Target exclusive album, which was a “phantom” clear vinyl that included a 24-page jacket with rare photos, a replica of the singer-songwriter’s handwritten lyrics, and a bonus track. This album was also available for preorder. 

Swift’s preorder mania neglected to support independent record stores though, with shops forbidden from getting their hands on the album until the official release date. 

In response to the dangers D2C poses to indie record stores, 70 U.S. independent vinyl retailers wrote an open letter to record labels earlier this week that calls for an end to the practice of pre-selling records exclusively through D2C channels. 

Rough Trade, a London-based record store, described the current approach as “a two-tiered system that privileges certain consumers over others. This not only fosters feelings of exclusion and frustration among music enthusiasts but also perpetuates inequalities within the industry. Independent retailers, in particular, are disproportionately affected by this practice, as they often lack the resources and negotiating power to compete with larger chains or online platforms.”