The vinyl resurgence first went from a trickle to a stream – could it yet become a flood? In January 2015 the British Phonographic Company reported record vinyl sales, reaching levels unheard of for over two decades. The only issue is, these record-breaking figures only account for 2% of total sales.
Tesco’s entry into the vinyl market, then, isn’t entirely surprising. There’s clearly a market here, one which goes beyond optimistic headlines to re-connect music fans with a once-fading format. The supermarket chain already stocks record decks in their larger stores, and it’s a not too unexpected move to place actual vinyl releases alongside them.
It’s undoubtedly good news for the format in some respects. If vinyl is to truly break out of its niche zone then large retailers need to get back behind black wax, to increase both its visibility and viability. Yet, in stocking vinyl, Tesco could well create more problems than it solves.
The sector under most immediate threat from this move is independent retailers. Pushed almost to extinction by the aggressive pricing of large chains, many retailers have already voiced concerns at their inability to compete with Tesco. Even with their first vinyl release the supermarket are adding in offers that the likes of London’s Sister Ray or Bristol’s Rise or Edinburgh’s Avalanche would be unable to replicate. Iron Maiden’s ‘The Book Of Souls’ will be available in selected Tesco Extra stores from Friday (September 4th) alongside extensive offers on Maiden’s own brand of beer or (if preferred) water.
Sure, many in Iron Maiden’s fan base may be reluctant to support their local record shop but this denies the essential economics that underpin independent retail. It’s largely a myth that intense young men or women seeking out deleted seven inches from The Fall keep record shops open – releases such as Iron Maiden are the bread and butter of any store.
Furthermore, expanding the commercial base of vinyl as a format without investing in the infrastructure needed to supply the wax itself could lead to major issues. Pressing plants are already overburdened, and if major label releases are aiming for supermarket visibility then smaller, independent releases could suffer. The enormous success of Record Store Day has already proved to be a double-edged sword – if it takes off, Tesco’s plan could well place further un-needed pressure on the creaking network of pressing plants.
Seeking to meet deadlines, plants could well be obliged to cut further corners. As any dedicated vinyl fiend knows, pressings are already variable – just because something is packaged well and arrives on black plastic doesn’t mean that it will offer premium sound. Unexpected skips and jumps disrupt the listening experience, while the actual quality of vinyl used can vary enormously. Simply put: all that glistens is not aural gold, and reaching for the mass market without addressing this would surely leads to extensive quality issues.
It’s important to embrace vinyl, to see a fantastic format reach the widest audience possible. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of independent retail, of independent music and of the quality of the listening experience. Tesco’s entry in the vinyl marketplace is to be welcomed, but it also raises a number of ongoing questions about the nature of the vinyl resurgence itself.
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Words: Robin Murray
Tesco photo via