Is vinyl in the groove – or stuck in a rut?
Record store day was a big winner again this year – but has the vinyl revival hit the skids? And what can be done to keep the industry going?
The queues have gone, the tills have stopped frantically ringing and record shop owners are reflecting on one of their biggest weekends of the year.
The 2019 Record Store Day left most owners happy.
But is this one day of the year reflective of the vinyl industry?
“It keeps going and going, you think it’s going to plateau and stop but it hasn’t,” said Rough Trade’s Nigel House at the start of the official film for Record Store Day 2019.
According to the British Phonographic Industry, 4.2 million vinyl LPs were purchased in 2018, the 11th consecutive year of growth. But the rate of growth is slowing down.
Claire Howell is the owner of Vintage & Vinyl in Wolverhampton which has just celebrated its best ever Record Store Day – but despite that she admits there is a wider struggle on the cards.
“I would say my sales of new vinyl has dropped 70 per cent,” she says.
Much has been made of the “vinyl revival”, and demand for music on aesthetically pleasing, satisfyingly scratchy discs is high. That is largely down to the indie record shop.
But with HMV getting back into the market and supermarkets stocking vinyl, there are signs the big boys have started to muscle in on the market.
“There has been a definite knock on effect,” says Claire. “When I opened up I was the only shop selling new vinyl.
“But HMV started selling again and then supermarkets were getting exclusives we were not allowed to order.
“People getting into vinyl and buying vinyl is always going to be good for a record shop, but you are getting all this other retail as well as the competition online with things like Amazon.
“With a lot of new vinyl you make maybe £2 or £3 on one record. The profits are low but the risks are high.
“The price of new vinyl over the last nine or 10 years has risen 25 to 30 per cent and if prices continue to keep rising then sales will start to decline because people just won’t buy it.”
Record Store Day itself is a big weekend for collectors who want to get their hands on some of the limited-edition records on offer.
Many will go as far as queuing up outside their local indie store from the early hours of the morning.
Customers were lined up outside Left for Dead in Shrewsbury from 10.30pm, and its owner Andy Haddon notched up his store’s best trading day since opening six years ago.
But he warned that vinyl shops are struggling like most high street retailers.
“Record Store Day was amazing,” he said. “I still have the same enthusiasm for it now as I did back at the start. The difference between now and a few years ago is that it is no longer a bonus and is a necessity.”
Andy however does not believe Rough Trade’s chief – and believes vinyl’s rise in popularity may have stopped.
“I think it has plateaued,” he said. There are people who buy records who will carry on buying records, but at the end of the day it was a bit faddy.
“But it’s also about pricing and things like wages stagnating and consumer confidence. If you haven’t got much money then the first thing that you cut out is luxuries and vinyl is a luxury.”
But there is a positivity in the light of the rise in new vinyl for indie stores, and that is a rise in the second hand market.
“What you find with new vinyl is that people who have bought a record that is only a couple of years old bring them in to sell because they don’t like it any more or have fallen out of love with collecting,” said Claire.
“So we are getting a secondary market off the new sales.”
But while times are maybe getting tougher for the independent vinyl sellers, few see the market collapsing.
“We are talking about people wanting that physical form of music,” said Claire. “It is that what gets people excited. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. But what you need is new collectors, and we need that new drive of people to carry on.”
Joseph Cave from Cave Records in Shrewsbury says that he had a successful Record Store Day on the basis that they scaled back what they ordered and reduced their prices on regular stock – but he foresees a future in used vinyl.
“Sometimes we are getting kids bringing their records in to see for who it was a flash in the pan,” he said.