The decline in CD sales and high-street music retailers has led to the closure of two classical music distributors on opposite sides of the Atlantic, with the future of a third being questioned.
Qualiton, the oldest independent classical distributor in the US, closed its doors at the beginning of June. Founded 45 years ago by Otto Quittner to import Hungarian recordings, the company had been hard hit by the collapse of Tower Records and other US retail chains.
Several of its suppliers praised the company for acting ‘honourably’ by giving them notice of the closure, so they could find alternative distributors.
‘Our business model has not changed enough,’ said Angela Cuciniello, national sales manager and VP of sales, adding that the company had not been able to make the necessary investment to facilitate digital distribution.
Administrators moved in to Spanish distributor Harmonia Mundi Iberica at the end of May, with industry figures hoping that the impact of its failure of would be minimised through links with its parent company: some labels were pressing for it to pay all or part of the Spanish outlet’s debts.
Harmonia Mundi president Eva Coutaz said: ‘Sadly we were forced to close HM Iberica due to the very bad economical situation in Spain and especially that of the record market, which has been suffering in Spain for many years.’
Industry-wide concerns about the future of Benelux-based Codaex were not allayed by its recent joint venture with Challenge Classics under the banner New Arts International. Several sources have told CM that they expect serious revelations about Codaex’s future soon, possibly within days.
NAI marketing and sales chief Paul Janse said of New Arts International: ‘In these economically difficult times we have combined forces to do distribution in Benelux, Germany and Italy.’
But digital sales in the Netherlands had not grown as fast as in the UK and the collapse in May of the Free Record Shop chain added to problems in that country.
The joint venture with Challenge, which is mainly known as a recording company, would work more closely with artists in promoting live events as well as recordings online, he said. ‘We will make sure fans know about releases.’
He stressed that NAI was separate from Codaex UK.
Another new joint venture hoping to gain from the turbulence is T2, a partnership between Brilliant Classics, mainly known for its budget-price box sets of CDs, and Newton Classics, the reissue label founded by Theo Lap.
Mr Lap said T2 was focusing on distribution in the Netherlands and Belgium, and had already signed up Membran, Alia Vox, Ondine and Naxos. He was in advanced discussions with nine other labels at the Classical:Next congress in Vienna.
In contrast to overall market trends, he insisted that Newton ‒ which reissues recordings from the major labels featuring legendary artists such as Sir Neville Marriner, Peter Schreier and Emmanuel Ax on CD only ‒ was showing robust growth.