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Music Closure of Canadian vinyl supplier RPM could raise prices, affect titles: retailers

Boxes of vinyl records line the walls at Canada Boy Vinyl, the only vinyl record factory in Canada, in Calgary, on Oct. 22, 2015.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

One of Canada’s largest distributors of vinyl records has shut down with little notice – leaving some retailers scrambling to find alternate suppliers and raising questions about higher prices.

RPM Distribution, based in Concord, Ont., notified clients by e-mail on Monday that it would be “closing all operations effective immediately.”

The move instantly put a halt to vinyl shipments for many smaller music shops, including Revolution Records in Hamilton.

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Owner Scott Bell says he’s relied on RPM to supply about 70 per cent of his new inventory, most which came from major label Universal, home of Bruce Springsteen, Imagine Dragons and an extensive hip hop catalogue. He’s now looking for a different company to work as his middleman.

Other retailers leaned on RPM for an even larger chunk of their album supply, Bell says, and some are worried about the fallout, which could include higher prices or a shortage of new titles.

“I’ve not stopped talking about it,” he said of many calls he’s received from his friends in the retail industry over the past day.

“Nobody knows. Everybody’s wondering what everybody else is doing.”

Suppliers like RPM serve a unique function in the vinyl business, working as a funnel for mainstream and indie record labels to local stores, which tend to order small numbers of each title.

Universal doesn’t work directly with stores that don’t buy a plentiful enough inventory each year, say several of the owners, making a middleman their best option.

Bryan Munn of Royal Cat Records in Guelph, Ont., says he first realized something was amiss with RPM when his post-Christmas restock order didn’t show up last week.

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“I’m already finding it a little bit difficult to get some regularly stocked items,” Munn says.

He suggests customers keep a close eye on vinyl prices in the coming weeks, as the lack of supply drive may drive them higher at some stores.

The resurgence of vinyl has seen its share of casualties in recent years, partly because manufacturing costs are high, and the number of facilities that can produce the discs is limited.

Two years ago, Calgary-based business Canada Boy Vinyl, one of the country’s only pressing plants, closed down little more than year after it opened.

Despite the industry hurdles, vinyl sales rose over 21 per cent last year according to Nielsen Music Canada, selling more than 975,000 units.

Mark Logan, who owns Encore Records in Kitchener, Ont., expects boutique record shops who rely heavily on selling hot new releases will suffer the most from RPM’s closure.

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“If they’re on top of it, this might be a two-week transition,” he says.

“Any stores that were struggling, this might put a nail in (their) coffins.”

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