The Vinyl Countdown

Vinyl nearly died in the mid 2000s, but today it accounts for nearly one in 10 of all physical purchases in the UK.  The ubiquitous music streaming services are now responsible for the majority of music consumption and CD sales are on the decline, but Vinyl has bucked the trend and found a niche, accounting for 4.1m new album sales in 2017 (up from just 210,000 in 2007). Part of this may be due to an initiative called Record Store Day that started in 2008. For anyone who (like me) is a complete noob (this is a fairly recent addition to my vocabulary gleaned from my oldest step son) on this subject, this is one day a year when over 200 independent record stores (and they do have to be independent) join together to celebrate vinyl culture. 

Generation change

Music consumption has changed significantly between generations – I recall with great fondness the excitement of visiting our local record store (sadly now defunct) as a teenager and getting the latest release on vinyl with my hard earned money.  The whole thing was an experience, from the planning, the saving, the buying, to the consuming.  Consumption started with the return home on the train: admiring the artwork, reading the lyrics and liner notes, and finally, in front of my turntable to spend some undisturbed time listening to the record at least a couple of times (no skipping, in the order the album was designed to be played). Fast forward to today and my children do not really understand the concept of an album, never mind the use of physical media. They live in a world of Spotify playlists and skipping to the next track before the current track has finished – it’s sadly become so immediate.

Digital vs vinyl

My re-engagement with vinyl in 2018 was thanks to my wife getting me an excellent Christmas present – a new turntable (how many people still have and use the separate hi-fi systems that were all the rage in the 1980s/90s?). This allowed me to retrieve my vinyl collection from the garage and re-familiarise myself with it. It also gave me licence to buy some of my favourite albums released in this millennium, most of which I do already own on CD. I am now to the tune of £20-30 lighter for each of those vinyl – the record company and presumably artist are happy!  The main challenge now is finding time to sit down and listen to them, and I admit digital has made me lazy, it’s so much easier to navigate to tracks or albums on Spotify but is it as pleasurable?

Record store day

So back to Record Store day – in a previous blog about Christmas shopping, I referred to Record Store Day as an initiative to drive footfall into independent record stores.  This year the big day is Saturday 13thApril.  It will be a fairly prestigious event, with artists releasing special limited edition vinyl one offs just for that day, and many shops and cities hosting events and artist performances for the day.   Participating stores have to sign a code of conduct which includes no pre-orders, no selling it online for a week, not permitting people to buy multiple copies and to sell at a fair price.  I am reliably informed that the organisers have mystery shoppers who do check that stores comply with the rules.

The only down side I can see to the initiative is those people who inevitably try to profit by selling their purchases on e-bay.  My limited research shows that for a selection of just 6 releases from RSD 2018 the cost to buy all 6 releases on RSD should have been £133 but now the same releases purchased online will set you back £212 (a 59% increase) plus postage.

To help other fellow noobs to navigate record store day I’ve compiled some top tips to help:

Do your research

Determine which local stores are participating and ensure that you are going to a city destination where there is more than one store to maximise your chance of success.

Plan your day

Participating stores will have different opening times so plan a route and also plan what vinyl you require, ideally in a priority order.

Phone ahead

This will ensure the store has the vinyl you require on order, and it’s also worth asking how many copies they secured (some releases will be strictly limited to 1 or 2 copies per store).

Start early

Some of the more popular stores are open early (the one I’m off to is open at 7.30am!) and people can be known to queue from the night before. It all depends how much you want a particular record.

If in the queue with a friend, it could be advisable to survey the people in front to determine what vinyl they are after – this way you will at least know if you have a chance!

If all else fails, try online a week later!

Drivers of demand

What has this to do with retail or spatial analytics?  It’s a great initiative that serves to drive footfall into Record Stores, although one day’s worth of inflated footfall and trade is hardly going to ensure the store is solvent for the year ahead.  Clearly there is a spatial element to the distribution of participating stores and there will be local skews to the demand for specific artists.

My analytical mind has also been speculating on what the drivers of demand for the growth in vinyl are.  Is it dominated by quantities of nostalgia seeking, middle aged, middle class, along with the 20 something hipsters?  You would think that there would be disproportionate under-representation from the under 20s – given the cost of a single vinyl album will typically equate to at least 2 months subscription to unlimited tunes on Spotify at home and on the move. However, it may once again become a bragging point of the teenager, or student who is in the know, as to what album or new release they have managed to bag on vinyl. After all they are the generation whose parents grew up with vinyl and appreciated the sound quality and aesthetics of a record.

Click here to find out more about record store day.

Author: Steve Halsall, Director, Red Tiger Consulting

Image: Siebe Warmoeskerken, Negative Space



One thought on “The Vinyl Countdown”

  1. A great read this. Have heard of RSD and on way back from a gig a friend was telling me all about queues in Manchester and the early starts to bag the items he had listed and phoned ahead for .
    A good few years back I purchased a USB record player and purchased a load of old second hand vinyl varying from rock and metal to pop chart cheese and dance and Simon and Garfunkel etc. Whatever I could get my hands on but the aesthetics of the player and the tinny sound it made with old vinyl made me offload said purchases inc player. I now long to have a more pleasing record player and some re-released vinyl versions of my greatest artists and some new releases. With prices as high as they are I would have to be very careful with my selections though. Will never forget the buzz of purchasing records as a teen and discovering new genres of music and digging through many many records. Happy times. Keep up the collecting

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