The Gramophone, June, 1928


The Problem of Selling Musical Records


IN the May issue of THE GRAMOPHONE Mr. Compton Mackenzie devotes nearly a column and a half of his brilliant editorial to the shortcomings of that social parasite of the gramophone world-the dealer, with particular reference to his lack of enterprise in assisting the sales of records o~ good music. I am sure that THE GRAMOPHONE, with i ts unerring sense of fairness, will allow me the courtesy of i ts columns in an attempt to outline as briefly as possible the dealer's point of view.

I suppose that, without undue assumption, I may be permitted to include myself among the favoured hierarchy described by Mr. Mackenzie as " the leading dealers." (Pilease correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Editor.) I do not think I am a pessimist (again, I am open to correction), and perhaps because of my prevailing faith in the ultimate good sense of the public, perhaps merely to satisfy a streak of personal vanity, I have frequently endeavoured through the channels of my business to promote a greater appreciation of good music. Possibly my intentions may have been more laudable than my methods. I t is with considerable regret, however, that I have to record the fact that the results have seldom justified the experiments undertaken in this direction. I will give one instance in i l lustration of the efforts I have occasionally made. In the early days of electric recording I was very much impressed by the Columbia version of Berlioz' " Symphonie Fantastique." Here, I thought, is wonderful music, magnificently played and representative of the (then) high water mark of recording. Accordingly I arranged a lecture-recital, issued the necessary invitations and engaged the services of a lecturer whose reputation as a public authority upon music was unimpeachable. For nearly two hours the lecturer held an audience of about one hundred people spellbound; the reception accorded the records and the lecturer was undoubtedly favourable, and yet, as a direct result of the recital, not a single set of the records was sold. By dint of personal recommendation to a small circle of established customers, a fair sale for this symphony eventually ensued, but such sales as were effected would very probably have materialised in any case; Now I am not for one moment suggesting that our Berlioz recital did not have some indirect effect, however remote that may have been; if i t only proved the means of making people think about the music they had heard i t could not have been altogether unfruit-

ful, but the material manifestations were not exactly encouraging. Unfortunately this recital is not an isolated example; t ime and again I have tried similar "stunts," with equally unsatisfying results, and while I am still of opinion that such efforts were not wholly sterile, i t will be appreciated, I think, that one is not in business merely for the good of one's health. (By way of contrast, I might mention that on a number of occasions when we have announced that Layton and Johnstone would autograph records for purchasers in our show rooms, sales of 400 to 500 records have been effected in a single afternoon.)

The truth of the matter is that the interest in good music, and consequently the sales of records of good music, are comparatively static; in fact, I would not be surprised to find that the public for classical records does not extend very far beyond the confines of the section which reads this journal. I f that is the case i t is surely not to be wondered at if the small or average dealer does not care very much whether the price of celebrity records is 6s. 6d. or 8s. 6d., or whether Beethoven wrote nine symphonies or twentynine, since he has probably never heard of THE GRAMOPHONE and certainly does not lumber his shelves with symphonies or sonatas or string quartets. I am not defending the small dealer's attitude; I am simply stating what I believe to be a fact and what I believe to be part of a general cause which is responsible for the lack of interest in good music, good l i terature and good art, a cause which can be stated in one word-apathy. I f my diagnosis is correct, however, the responsibility for the lamentably attenuated sales of musical records devolves equally upon four sections of society-the Press, the publishers, the public and the dealers. Since Mr. Mackenzie has already dealt with the delinquencies of the latter, I will confine my remarks to the other three classes of offenders whose apathy in my opinion is no less than that displayed by the small dealers.

Take the Press. I suppose we should congratulate ourselves upon the degree of recognition accorded to gramophone products in the popular Press to-day . in view of the fact that only a few years ago the very existence of the gramophone was completely ignored, at least in the editorial policies of most of the powerful organs of daily journalism. I t is true that nowa~ days records are periodically reviewed in the daily newspapers. But ยท how? While uncensored and apparently unlimited columns are devoted to satisfy-