FEATURE: Off the Record: What Is the Future of Record Shops at a Time When the High Street Is Dwindling?



Off the Record


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What Is the Future of Record Shops at a Time When the High Street Is Dwindling?


I have been listening to the news…


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and, with every passing week, a chain of shops seems to disappear. This time, Mothercare is under threat of closure. I guess there are reasons why certain companies go into administration and suffer but, a lot of the time, there is that competition and choice you get on the Internet; rising rent prices and more and more of us shopping online. I know that record shops have very loyal customers but, with more and more shops being boarded up and there being uncertainty regarding Brexit, how long will we be able to hit the high street and buy records? I know HMV are surviving and have overcome scares regarding closure, but even that chain must be worried about the future; the fact vinyl has a big market but, when it comes to products like CDs and DVDs, there is not really that demand. I grant the fact we can go to a huge website like Amazon and get quick delivery of pretty much anything we need. Streaming means more people are able to get music for free, and I am seeing so many independent music shops struggling and locking up for the last time. There is no denying that records and music sales are steady and healthy. If CDs are on the decline, there is a hungry market for vinyl. Vinyl sales are overtaking CD figures, and I am glad to see a classic format enduring at a time when streaming is more popular than ever. Although vinyl sales are impressive and people will always crave a tactile record, I wonder whether a lot of this demand is coming from the Internet.


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I live in London and realising that, if you want to buy a record, there are options. Working in Central London, there are not really as many record shops as you’d think. We used to have the HMV flagship store on Oxford Street, but that went when HMV were threatened with closure. There are some decent record shops in London, but a lot of them are smaller outlets and there is a problem with space and choice. I have done a lot of record shopping in Brighton, and there are a few cool record shops down there – Resident being my favourite of them all. I guess bigger cities like London will price a lot of record shops out and the rent costs are always sky-high! I do have a concern that a lot of established and popular record shops will be under pressure soon. There should always be a place for the Internet, as it provides choice and one does not need to travel. I think record shops, more than any other business, are defined by passionate staff and a very dedicated customer base. Record buyers love the experience of being able to browse and connect with like-minded folk. I have covered this subject before…but think about the sort of energy you get in record shops. You often bond with people who have similar tastes, and there is that buzz of the impulse purchase: finding an album that you could live without but would rather not do.

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I don’t think you quite get that with online shopping, and you can never really have too many record shops – each one offers their own vibe and, in big towns and cities, the thought of commuting quite a distance to get to a record shop can be off-putting. One can attribute closing shops to problems with that particular organisation, but we will see more and more chains and shops close their doors in years to come. Whilst articles from a few years ago remarked independent stores are faring better than chains, many are having to diversify to stay open – putting on in-stores and selling coffee, for example. When popular independent record shops close, it is not a sterile and new business you are closing: these stores have built up a reputation and are filled with charm, warmth and character. With a General Election looming in December, the subject of Brexit must be brought into the conversation. We are not sure quite how impactful Brexit will be when it comes to production, tariffs and raising costs. Looking at an article from earlier in the year, and it seems like there is some uncertainty affecting many retailers and businesses:

The uncertainty, though, has already started to affect parts of the music industry, whose CDs and vinyl are mostly pressed in Europe. “When I get records from the US, they can take ages to get through customs,” says Jon Tolley of Banquet Records in Kingston upon Thames, who has been involved in the Entertainment Retailers Association’s discussions with record labels about Brexit. “And, if that’s happening with every record that comes in, I don’t know how we’ll deal with it.”

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The fear for record shops is that they are a long way down the major labels’ list of priorities. “They aren’t going to change their business models for our sake,” Tolley says. “Warner aren’t going to move their warehouse from France for us. I think a lot of shops aren’t aware of how damaging this could be, because it’s a fight for survival as it is, and they don’t have the bandwidth to think about five years down the line.”

Release campaigns will have to be lengthened to get stock into shops for release day, and, with production costs having already increased for UK companies because of the fall in the pound, tax and customs costs set to increase, and retail margins on CDs already low, there will be a knock-on effect. In short, physical music is going to become more expensive”.

With many of us unsure quite what will happen regarding vinyl trade and prices, there is always the danger that rising vinyl costs will discourage a lot of consumers. This feature explains more:

It seems inevitable then that Brexit will raise productions costs for record labels, an increase which would need to be at least partially shouldered by consumers.

With the average record already retailing at over £20, the added expense may discourage some music fans from continuing to support the vinyl industry.

To make things worse, should Brexit negatively impact the wider UK economy, these price rises could also coincide with British consumers tightening their belts, possibly placing additional pressure on sales.


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Then again, with 70% of all record sales already being attributed to a small core of dedicated ‘superfans’, who are more willing to overlook price increases, demand for vinyl may endure regardless.

Analysts have also expressed concerns about the continued growth of vinyl sales, given that an already bottlenecked supply chain could be made even worse by the possibility of tariffs and increased bureaucratic tape post-Brexit.

Add to this the elevated costs of production, and we could see many smaller indie labels and emerging artists shy away from vinyl as it becomes too cost prohibitive to produce.

We know there will be repercussions for the live sector post-Brexit, regarding musicians from the E.U. and beyond. I do feel there will be problems right across the music industry but, in conjunction with the unsure fate of the high street, will we have to say goodbye to some of our reliable and best record stores? It would be a crying shame to see that and, with the vinyl resurgence and profitability, it would be good to see the Government investing money in the music sector to ensure there is protection for record shops, live venues and other areas. It is always upsetting seeing a live venue close, and record shops sort of go hand in hand. My hope is that rents will not rise too steeply, and most record shops will be okay. The sheer passion for records will see punters keep shops alive, but I wonder whether we will see enough prosperity to allow new shops to open. Passion is a wonderful thing but, when it comes to record shops, other factors will come into play. Let’s hope that Brexit does not damage the survival of record shops too much – rising rent prices are a big issue, so they need to be stabilised. Every record shop that closes is a tragedy and, with so many shops on the high street disappearing, there is this real worry. Let’s hope that this county’s fantastic record shops continue to exist and bring in customers…     

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FOR a very long time to come.