Self proclaimed “creative genus” Kanye West is looking to be the first artist who will have an album debut at number one, attributing over half of its units generated by online streaming. It reveals the dominance of the internet over the physical sales of music while simultaneously excelling the bloated ego of lil Kanye, so it’s not too surprising to hear of older platforms falling behind. However, there is one format that is still dodging the landfill and will not go quietly into the night, and that format that is vinyl .
Vinyl has seen a steady increase of sales every year in the UK since the early 2000’s, and shows no signs of slowing down. Quite the opposite, in fact. Lets take a look at some facts and future predictions.
From 2014-15, we saw record sales increase by 52% and account for a third of all physical sales. CD sales are also down by over a third since 2014, so it’s surprising to see a format as old as records flourishing in the current market. Vinyl’s competitors seem to be falling apart at the seems, as records did themselves in the 1980’s. Many of the presses used in the manufacture of vinyl were destroyed in the 80’s as the owners deemed them useless, now the few remaining presses from the era sell for a small fortune. This shows us that even the people in the industry thought that vinyl was dead and buried.
Now turn the record over to 2016, and supermarket Tesco (aye… Tesco!) have become the first supermarket in the UK to start selling vinyl again, and since the 23rd of March 2016 Sainsbury’s have followed suit. It’s with fair certainty that you won’t be able to find the latest Theo Parrish release down at your local supermarket, but you’ll be likely to find the more predictable iconic artists like Bob Marley, David Bowie and AC/DC for £10 – £15 a pop. The reason for both supermarkets doing this could be competitive, or perhaps a move more indicative of a business with an armada of overpaid marketing experts at their disposal. Either way, for whatever reason, it has happened and is unlikely to un-happen any time soon. But will the recent trend in growth of sales continue to sustain an increase in the vinyl business? More importantly, what does this mean for the independent record shops?
In recent years, stand alone record shops like 23rd Precinct in Glasgow had to shut their doors, as the business model for selling records alone became economically nonviable. 23rd Precinct shut their doors a few years ago despite being a once successful business. It seems that an unwillingness to adapt their business model left them out in the cold and lead to their eventual demise. Whether or not the recent surge in sales in today’s market could have supported this older model of business will remain unknown.
Glasgow’s independent and much adored Rubadub Records started moving away from just selling records and into the broader market of selling music software, hardware, and supplies. To its credit, the store has managed to thrive with a combination of almost 25 years of experience in the market place, strong affiliations with Glasgow labels Numbers, Optimo Records, and Dixon Avenue Basement Jams, and having adapted by moving most of their vinyl selling operation to an online platform (with much of the record space in store being replaced with hardware).
It’s no secret that internet shopping is infinitely more convenient for the customer, allowing you to shop in the comfort of your own home (in your underwear at 5am, smoking last nights joint, covered in monster munch crumbs, throwing darts at a picture of Calvin Harris while checking out Belgian drone records on Discogs), but most vinyl lovers would probably prefer to pursue some well stocked shelves in a actual shop rather than poke about online.
It’s true that the online market is here to stay, and it has revolutionized the way most people discover and buy records (another dart hits Calvin’s picture), but there will always be a place for the methodical act of actually sifting through records in a shop. Many vinyl DJs account their choice of platform to the tactile feel of something that you can actually hold and see responding to your record player with an unbeatable analogue quality sound. As art replicates life, sometimes the act of actually searching through piles of records in a shop is, in essence, analogue track hunting… or the old school search bar on your website.
Only time will tell what the future will hold for vinyl but optimism in the format wouldn’t be misplaced for the foreseeable future.
Words: Ryan Townley