The Vinyl Revival – From The Frontline

Author Graham Jones on the indie shop’s return…

Last month, Clash reported that sales of vinyl were on the rise, and impressively so. The first half of 2013 saw sales of the format increase by over 33%, based on the previous year’s numbers.

Undoubtedly, the increased profile of events like Record Store Day and The Independent Label Market has helped to shift more stacks of wax. The knock-on effect is that the once-common independent record store is fighting back, too.

This we learned when Graham Jones, author of 2009’s Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened To Record Shops? (now a film – find its website here), got in touch to offer some words on the vinyl revival, from the perspective of someone at the frontline of affairs.

Yes please, we said. And Graham obliged.

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Between 2004 and 2009, 540 independent UK record shops closed down, leaving only 269 left. I had been a sales rep for a record company for 25 years, with a ringside view of the carnage that was happening on our high streets. The media seemed obsessed with pub closures, but few people noticed that our record shops were vanishing.

This inspired me to write my 2009 book Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened To Record Shops? I toured the country and interviewed staff at 50 record shops to document their tales before they went the way of other high street businesses of the past, such as coin shops, stamp shops and candlestick makers.

But then, something remarkable happened.

Record shops stopped their dramatic decline and new stores stated opening. Four years on we have more record shops than we had back in the dark days of 2009. The current total is 298: a dramatic transformation in the music retailing landscape.

What caused this?

The answer is the resurgence in vinyl sales. Although sales of physical product were down by 13% in 2012, vinyl bucked this trend and sales rose by 18%.

The comeback of the format the industry tried to kill is quite remarkable. The catalyst for this revival was an event called Record Store Day, launched in the USA in 2007 and in the UK the following year. Every third Saturday of April, record shops throughout the world organise events with most hosting live bands.

Credit must go to the record companies for embracing the day. In 2013 they released over 400 exclusive vinyl releases, only available from independent record shops. Record Store Day has got people going back into record shops. Records are suddenly back in fashion. Vinyl is being discovered by a new generation of buyers, who are appreciating the listening experience it offers.

Of course, the resurgence hasn’t been harmed by a less-crowded market place, with Woolworths, Music Zone, Tower and Zavvi all closing, and companies like WHSmith pulling out of music retail.

The question I wish to address is this: why does the music industry think that supporting record shops just one day a year is adequate? It is fantastic to see hundreds of people queuing outside record shops one day a year, but the industry needs to attract people into record shops every week of the year.

They can do this by offering exclusive vinyl product not just one day of the year, but by doing it every week.

There are signs of hope. Pet Shop Boys recently produced a limited run of 1,000 copies of a 12” single only available from independent record shops. Nick Cave gave away a 7” single to people who bought his album from independent record shops. Stores really appreciated the support of the artists, but it needs the whole industry to get behind this.

It is record shops where we go to buy our vinyl. You are never going to see supermarkets rack it next to the food, the way they do with CDs.

To all artists and record companies reading this I ask you to consider: next time you are releasing something on vinyl, put some extra content on the record to encourage music fans to purchase from the local record shop.

Record stores champion new and local music, and this is vital for a vibrant and healthy music scene. Without record shops, music stagnates – this is why we must support them.

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Graham Jones’ new book, Strange Requests And Comic Tales From Record Shops, is available now

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