BBC Radio 3's CD Review programme has been on a jolly to Arles in the South of France. The event was French label Harmonia Mundi's 50th anniversary sales conference, and payback time came last Saturday when the BBC programme played the contents of the conference goody bag and gave several senior French executives a lot of valuable airtime to promote the Harmonia Mundi solution for today's turbulent classical music market.
In simple terms the Harmonia Mundi solution is internet bad and independent sector good. Now I am a huge fan of both Harmonia Mundi recordings and independent record stores and feature both here frequently. The header photo of the excellent Harmonia Mundi store in Avignon was taken by me last September and I have spent an awful lot of Euros in their French stores over the years. So congratulations to Harmonia Mundi on fifty wonderful years, and it's great to find such solid support for independent bricks and mortar stores. But just a minute, look at this ...
Open this link. You will see that Harmonia Mundi are trading on the internet as part of the Amazon Marketplace. You can buy Stockhausen's Kontakte on Wergo (a Harmonia Mundi distributed label) online direct from Harmonia Mundi for £10.73 delivered in the UK which is competitive with the price in leading independent record store (see comment from Harmonia Mundi below). And you don't even need to visit Amazon, just buy from Harmonia Mundi's own online store.
To find out what was really happening I ordered Kontakte direct from Harmonia Mundi. My copy arrived in 48 hours, which is faster than I could have got it from an independent store, and it even came with the business card of John Falla, Harmonia Mund's direct sales manager. Great service; but why are Harmonia Mundi cutting out the very independents they claim to support? Could it be that their private view on the future of the independent bricks and mortar sector differs from their public position?
Harmonia Mundi make great CDs, and you cannot blame them for running with the hare and the hounds in today's turbulent music market. But they are going about it in a muddle-headed way. A top independent record store I spoke to before running this story didn't know about their Amazon Marketplace presence, and, not surprisingly, was very unhappy when I told them. And it's a pity that BBC Radio 3 swallowed Harmonia Mundi's bait hook, line and sinker without doing any research. But then the bouillabaisse in the South of France is very good indeed.
Now here is a contemporary composer saying independent record labels never failed me yet.
Header photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Many thanks for the coverage, and indeed for the chance to reply.
We use every avenue available to us to sell both our own CD’s and those of the labels we so proudly distribute in the UK – that’s our Job.
Amazon Marketplace does enable us to offer service to the (very few) customers that cannot find what they want from independent retailers, multiples or indeed other web-retailers.
Our policy in this area has always been not to undercut the market – the reason so few people use this service.
The disc to which you refer is a mid-price title, typically on sale for £9.99 in most stores.
So I’d be grateful if you could correct your story, and indeed let me know which retailer is offering you mid-price product at £14.99!!!!
Commercial Manager, Harmonia Mundi (UK) Limited
I'm more than happy to publish this reply, and have corrected the price. But I would make the following comments.
Before I published the article I received a written price of £14.99 from a very dependable independent store for Kontakte. I have since pointed out to the retailer that is is now a mid-price disc. They accept this, but are critical of the mechanism used by Harmonia Mundi to notify price changes.
The main thrust of the article was not about price cutting. It was about Harmonia Mundi offering a distribution service in direct competition with independent dealers.
The justification offered by Harmonia Mundi is a strange one -'Amazon Marketplace does enable us to offer service to the (very few) customers that cannot find what they want from independent retailers, multiples or indeed other web-retailers.'
What service can Harmonia Mundi provide direct that Amazon themselves, or many other market place resellers cannot provide?
It is also clear that Harmonia Mundi's view and that of some of their retail outlets differ sharply on the topic of HM selling direct to the public.
And, of course, the BBC Radio 3 programme made absolutely no mention that Harmonia Mundi 'use every avenue available ... to sell' - including the internet.
So there is more muddle than sense in this story. Which just about sums up record companies today
That reminds me: I suppose we can kiss Deutsche Harmonia Mundi goodby.
EMI will probably never issue them again.That was also an amazing catalogue. And some of the best cover art EVER was on their REFLEXE series.
OOPS.I meant Sony BMG, not EMI!!!
But looking again at this link the price that Harmonia Mundi is selling direct at is still relevant
The Harmonia Mundi price is cheaper than a number of other sellers. In particular it is cheaper than five UK sellers, one of who is called 'verycheapcds'.