Published: 00:01, 01 January 2017
Record shops are getting back in the groove - with a resurgence in a demand for vinyl.
Big challenges remain for independent players, writes Chris Price.
Simon Parker felt vindicated as he opened up his town centre record shop for the day.
A jobbing musician by trade who has “gigged around for 20 years”, he welcomed the morning customers at Vinyl Revolution in Tunbridge Wells with the news that vinyl sales had outstripped those of digital downloads for the first time the previous week.
The music industry made £2.4 million from records in week 48 of this year, compared to £2.1 million for downloads, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association.
“I always knew vinyl was the better format because it sounds better and feels better,” said Mr Parker, who opened his shop in October.
“It’s just more special. Vinyl sales have got better and better and record companies are responding by putting more interesting records back in print.
“Records by Blur, Pulp and Oasis are now in the shop for £20 to £25, which you used to have to buy online from a little specialist dealer for £90.
“A big part of downloads falling is because of streaming. You can’t ignore that but this has been a trend all year.”
The launch of Vinyl Revolution comes amid a general resurgence of independent music stores stocking vinyl.
In March, Transmission Records opened in Cliftonville and in September, father and daughter Vincent and Tahlula Monticelli opened the Record Store in Park Mall in Ashford. The latter became the first shop selling music in the town centre since HMV closed in March 2013.
In October, Dover Castle’s former commercial manager Nick Pygott realised a lifetime ambition when he opened Vinylstore Jr in Castle Street, Canterbury.
He was not surprised by the news vinyl sales had outstripped digital downloads, albeit for one week in the run up to Christmas, buoyed by big releases by Kate Bush and the Rolling Stones.
He said: “It was 10 years ago when physical sales were in chronic decline.
“Now they have come back. Now, everything gets a vinyl release and the quality is very good.
“It is a reaction to the digital market. Everyone uses Spotify or downloading as a means of discovering music but when there is something you like and want to own it, you want a format which looks good and sounds good and that is what vinyl does. CDs never had that same appeal.
“It’s an interesting question whether availability is driving the resurgence or the resurgence is driving availability.
“There is something quite evocative about being in a record shop. There is something satisfying about flicking through racks of records. A lot of people come in because they like the atmosphere.”
Despite the good news, independent shop owners still know there are challenges on the horizon.
B Side the C Side record shop has been on the High Street in Herne Bay for more than a decade and was taken over by husband and wife team Chris and Oz Eastman three years ago.
Mr Eastman said the vinyl comeback is here to stay but is concerned independent shops may suffer at the hands of supermarkets.
He said: “It’s not a fad. Vinyl has been on the rise for the last two to three years. I took this shop on knowing that one day people would get fed up listening to CDs or downloading music.
“I’m not keen on supermarkets going back to it. Selling three CDs for £10 is what killed off the record shops in the 1990s. I look at the supermarkets now and they are selling vinyl for cheaper than I can buy it.
“In Herne Bay, we have not got a big Tesco or Sainsbury’s which is doing it but in other places there is that competition.
“It is OK if supermarkets sell it but the problem is when they start doing loss leaders to get people in to buy their toilet rolls and tins of beans.”
The answer, according to Mr Eastman, is for record stores to be “diverse”. His shop hosts live music once a month, runs a vinyl club and stages charity quizzes.
Back in Tunbridge Wells, Vinyl Revolution hosted a gig by Paul Young and his band Los Pacaminos this month and will host gigs by some of the town’s bands over Christmas.
Yet the area’s vinyl resurgence may be short-lived. Vinyl Revolution was launched on a short-term lease as a “pop up” shop and will close on January 8.
“It’s not a fad. Vinyl has been on the rise for the last two to three years" - Oz Eastman
It will continue to sell online and Mr Parker, who runs the shop seven-days-a-week with his partner Rachel Lowe, said they are looking at other potential sites in the town, despite living in Redhill.
He said: “When I was in a band I always used to end up in [the town’s live music venue] the Forum.
“I knew they loved their music here because the venue is still here. When I travel to towns around the country all the venues have gone because they can’t exist in the current climate.
“It has become difficult for independent venues to keep their heads above water. I was impressed the Forum is still here and people still go out to gigs. That told me this is still a music town.
“I understand Christmas has given us a boost but I definitely see 2017 being a great year for vinyl.”