On the date that Skin Trade was released, there were 263 branches of WH Smith in the UK with record departments. In the previous year the chain had brought Our Price, the largest independent music retailer (Smith’s wound up their existing specialist music subsidiary, Sound FX, shortly after this acquisition), bringing the total number of their stores to 442. The BPI estimated that there were around 5000 outlets selling recorded music in the UK at the time, but at least half of those were specialists – classical, jazz or folk shops; small businesses selling fewer than 100 units a week; stores focusing on formats like CD only – not places where 7” singles would be on sale. With Our Price, WH Smith had around 20% of the singles market, and so perhaps EMI’s cautiousness about the packaging of their 45s was understandable. Furthermore, a very real risk was that a decision by Smith’s to refuse delivery of a product might influence the buying department of the country’s largest music seller, Woolworth, who had nearly twice the market share of WH Smith and catered for a similar ‘family-oriented’ (as the BPI called it) audience. The failure of a record to make it on to the shelves of these two chains pretty much ruled out a having a hit: not only were they the sellers of choice for many people purchasing singles, many of their branches were also ‘sample’ shops whose sales data were used to compile the weekly charts.
Other large chains operating in February 1987 were HMV (59 stores, including the Revolver chain they purchased the previous year), Virgin (88 stores, soon also to be acquired by Smith’s), Boots (260 branches had a Sound Shop) and John Menzies (their 117 largest stores).
As for Skin Trade, EMI’s replacement text-only sleeve didn’t help it to sell. It ended a run of 12 consecutive Top 20 hits for Duran when it peaked at #22.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Feb. 9
CLASSIX NOUVEAUX (Sal Solo) Guilty (United Artists BP388)
The VAPORS Spiders (Liberty BP385)
The COLOURFIELD Running Away (Chrysalis COLF6)
The COMMUNARDS (Jimmy Somerville) You Are My World (London LON123
DURAN DURAN Skin Trade (EMI TRADE1)
SPARKS Rosebud (Consolidated Allied TOON4)