Enthusiasms No 11
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...
My preferred method of buying a recording is to go into a shop, browse through the stock, pick one out, hear a few short snips through the shop's headphones, pay and go home. However, my local music shops do not stock 'traditional' music. If I am looking for a particular CD, I could ask the shop to order it, but I find that it is cheaper and quicker to buy by mail order under these circumstances. For example, ADA is at least £1 cheaper per CD and makes no postal charge.
When I cannot find what I want in a shop, my options are mail order and on-line (Web) stores. Buying by either of these methods makes 'browsing' more difficult as I am reliant on reviews in magazines, e-zines (such as MT) and other on-line reviews. Hearing a few clips may be possible with a magazine CD, or a clip can often be found on the Web. Both e-zines and on-line music stores make liberal use of clips.
A mail order company is often also a distributor, but usually for only certain labels. The mail order company will request an out of stock item from the correct distributor. Some distributors collect orders until a certain number have been requested - usually about 30 - before dispatching an order to the recording company. This can result in a long wait for an unusual label. For example, I waited 4 months for a Kontrapunct CD.
Searching for a sound clip from a particular record is not easy and I am looking into this to see if I can give some hints. Snap has a RealAudio search at real.snap.com, but I haven't yet worked out what it is holding in its index (more when I have looked at this again). Using the album title, artist or label in a text search engine will often pick up reviews and on-line stores, but not specifically a clip.
Buying on-line has to be given careful consideration. I have purchased this way only twice and both times from the same store (CDNOW). Having been persuaded by an article in a consumer magazine that I should take the plunge into on-line buying, I have done so for CDs and also some books. However it is essential that the Web site where the debit/credit card details are taken has been set up securely. The security policy of the company should be studied before such details are given. I have never sent my debit card number in an e-mail as I have not yet got to grips with encryption.
After the security issue, the country in which the company is registered is important. So far the UK stores do not seem to offer anything that cannot be bought by mail order. Currently the largest on-line store is CDNOW, which is registered in the US. Although the store has a warehouse in Europe, all the items I have bought have been shipped from the US - which means that any package over £18 (including postal charges) in value is liable to duty, VAT and a collection fee on arrival in the UK. Duty is 3.8% on CDs. Royal Mail charges a £1.20 collection fee and Parcel Force charges £5.10. In general, CDs cost less in the US, but postage is expensive from there to the UK.
Having said all that about costs, the choice of CDs in US on-line stores is excellent. There is a wide choice of labels, although there is a limited choice within a label. If a particular CD is not listed, it cannot be ordered, but the lists are expanding all the time. Searching an on-line store should be straightforward, but there are often spelling mistakes, so if a search on a title is not successful, before giving up it worth trying a search for the artist or the label.
A last suggestion is buying remaindered or second hand stock. I subscribe to a postal remainder list from The Music Group. This is mainly a classical list, but I have acquired some lovely Scandinavian and European traditional music CDs on unusual Finnish and French labels . Two on-line companies which sell second hand classical recordings have been listed in Gramophone, but I have been unable to find any similar sites for world and traditional music.
My visits to London are not for shopping, but I did investigate Ray's Jazz Shop a few weeks ago, having seen their advertisement in The Wire. The basement has a good selection of world music, including some traditional. The staff seemed to have a good knowledge of traditional music - we had a discussion on the Hugh Tracey recordings and the possibility of importing the new CDs from The Netherlands.
In June 1999, I ordered ten CDs. The cost was $144.90, the postage was $20.49, Sales Discount was $10.00, totalling $155.39 (although the package arrived with the green sticker giving the value as $134.90). This was equivalent to £96.26 - with my bank statement showing £98.47 (different days as the strength of the pound changes I assume). The labels on the parcel indicate that it was shipped from the US via France (possibly via the CDNOW Europe warehouse). The package indicates the charges clearly so it is possible to check them. The import duty was £2.91, VAT £15.09, P.O. clearance fee £1.20, giving the total charges as £19.20. Doing an final calculation the average cost per CD was about £11.77.
It is almost impossible to buy more that one CD without incurring UK charges. If I had ordered these ten CDs separately the shipping would have totalled $69.90, whereas the shipping plus charges for the single parcel were $50.93.
Jennifer Harding - 16.6.99
I have retained all the little price details Jennifer gave me so that readers can make their own calculations about whether the purchace they envisage is likely to save, or cost, them money. A rough guide seems to be that buying a single CD will save you a couple of quid on UK shop prices; two will be more expensive than a shop; around 4 or 5 will be the break-even point; more than that and you start to save money again - Ed.
Like Jennifer, I prefer to buy from a record shop but my taste in music is generally left of centre and living in the provinces, I am rarely able to find what I want locally.
I can buy by mail order and I have found the smaller Irish record companies (Claddagh, Ossian, CIC, for example) to be excellent. They seem to have an almost incestuous relationship, distributing each other's CDs as well as almost anything else released in Ireland. All are very helpful and are happy to give advice and make recommendations if you want them to. Maybe I've been lucky but I have never had to wait for more than a week for my order to be delivered. Prices are similar to those in the UK but the current exchange rates gives an effective 15% discount. They charge postage at cost and make only a nominal packing charge.
Recently, I have found Copperplate in London who operate a mail order service. They have only a limited stock list but specialise in self-produced records by some excellent musicians. These are otherwise difficult to find in England. Again, the service is first class.
I have only had internet access for some 12 months at home and had always been wary of e-commerce. I came across an online record store in Belgium called Frontstage. I first bought from them about 6 months ago and my experiences have been generally good. They can be found at www.frontstage.com
They allow you to access the site in all major European languages and quote prices in most major currencies for delivery almost anywhere in the world. They quote a one-off administration charge and an additional charge per item. If you are buying in Sterling for delivery to the UK, these charges are £0.48 and £0.32 respectively. They stock a wide range of Irish material and parts of the Topic catalogue. In general, the prices are slightly cheaper (£1.00, typically) for full price CDs, but strangely a rather bigger discount often applies to mid-price and budget releases. A quick browse will often throw up some real bargains. As an example, the marvellous 4 CD set "Farewell to Ireland" recently reviewed in MT is available at £11.76.
So far, I have bought from them on 3 separate occasions. My order has always been delivered to my home within 2 weeks. Once, they were unable to supply one item on my order - rather than waiting for it to be available from the supplier, they shipped the balance, immediately issued a credit against my credit card and issued me with a code giving me a 10% discount off my next order.
Because they are in an EU member country, there is no problem with duty, provided that you are buying for your own use so some of the problems Jennifer encountered are avoided. Compared with buying from CD NOW, the one clear advantage is that you know beforehand exactly what price you will be paying. Frontstage do give a phone number and the one time I used it (at about 8 p.m.) I found there was someone there who could help me with my enquiry.
Roger Johnson - 7.10.99
It might be useful if readers would send in the details of good shops that they have investigated, mail order companies they would recommend and on-line stores that stock hard to get labels. The information can then be added to the list below.
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