Record Store Day, the annual celebration for independent record shops and independently minded musicians, has rolled around again.
A fixture since 2008, RSD gets the sort of media coverage and star support that Stationery Week, Butchers Week or British Sandwich Week would kill for – only World Book Day/Night come close in coverage.
This is a great success for a feelgood story about a sector that stereotypically (thanks in large part to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity) has the same relationship to mainstream retailing as the Bluebell Line has to HS2 – and perhaps some of the same appeal, for (typically) older men to relive their youth in a safe and nostalgic environment.
It wasn’t always like this. I managed several Our Price record shops in the early 80s, and they were the closest I’ve ever been to a retail goldmine.
Inflation-adjusted, we took around £1.4m ex-VAT out of a 1,200 sq ft store. And typically, the sorts of places I was managing – Bromley, Lewisham, Croydon – had two or three other chain and indie record shops, plus big record departments in Woolworths, WH Smith, Boots and the department stores.
Music was a huge part of people’s lives; we just had to open the doors and take the money, and the constant turnover of stars and hits was like having a new Harry Potter or 50 Shades every few weeks.
Music still matters but, despite the hype, vinyl albums are a very small part of a market that now derives most of its revenue from digital rather than physical formats.
Pop music is no longer a dominant passion for young consumers, who have a host of different distractions to engage with – and the Cowellised hegemony of mainstream pop has robbed it of much cultural relevance.
But out on the secondary pitches, it looks as though record shops are quietly thriving, and many of them are growing away from being crèches for old rockers.
Rough Trade East led the way, of course – bar, performance venue and record shop; elsewhere the model might be Watford’s LP Café, offering coffee, tea, cake and records (in that order); or Newcastle’s Vinyl Guru, operating from an airport industrial estate.
Absent from RSD is Urban Outfitters, which has perhaps played the strongest role in delivering vinyl to hipsters – indeed, chains are specifically barred from participating.
This seems a little unfair, as it means RSD is for the connoisseur, rather than everyone (a complete inversion of the World Book Day model).
However, anything that reminds consumers that good music is worth paying for, and that physical formats have a magic of their own, has to get my vote. Now, where did I put those old Buffalo Springfield albums?
- Philip Downer is managing director of Calliope Gifts, selling cards, stationery, homewares, toys, books… and hundreds of classic CDs
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