Friday, February 25, 2011

Record shops. It's over

This is actually a posting on the Shetlink discussion forum, from a thread inspired by rumours that my favourite record shop, Clive's in Lerwick, might be closing. As I write, Clive Munro hasn't shut yet, but it has to be a matter of time. My shopping there would only be on a social basis, these days.I haven't bought a CD since signing up for Spotify Premium.

I've spent shed loads of cash in Clive's, going right back to the days when he sold second hand stuff from that tiny wee shop opposite the Lodberrie. And Davie's right, his prices were at one point really competitive. Coupled with the tasteful selections of obscurities and the sheer breadth of music on offer, Clive's was one THE great UK record shops.

But the sad fact is that Clive's is now one of the last independent record shops. They've disappeared. If you're committed to music, if you're a serious fan, and especially if you live remotely, you now have Spotify Premium, you have iTunes, you have Bleep, Bandcamp and - for the brief interim period when we're actually still buying hard copies of digital information - Amazon and Indigo and And that takes in DVDs and games, too.

For the majority of consumers, music is a whisker away from being a completely online, mobile, almost free phenomenon. Once the fibreoptics are up and running here we won't need Blu-Ray or DVDs. Everything will be coming down that digital pipe. Or to our phones/tablets. And, Davie, I think you'd admit that musicians who depend on CDs are drinking in the last chance saloon, most now accepting that their money in the future will come from live shows and associated merchandise sales.

But. Fans will always want a souvenir. Committed fans will always want the best. They will want cover art and lyric sheets and other goodies. And so there will forever be a market for high-quality, luxurious sonic souvenirs of the band you love. For that, there's nothing better than vinyl. One of my sons is thinking of buying the £33 luxury vinyl package of the new Radiohead album. Even though he doesn't have a record player.

On the other hand, technophobes, late adopters and the elderly are going to want a sound format they can understand. Which is why Tesco is full of all those Sinatra compilations, and £1.99 Kinks/Stranglers/Sinatra/Buzzcocks/Val Doonican Greatest Hits.

I've had this conversation with Clive. I told him I thought there were fantastic online niches available for someone selling rare vinyl, souvenir, limited edition box sets, curated, recommended downloads, and merchandise of every sort. But that, sadly, the days of the record shops we loved and once lived for are over.

Google 'Lefsetz Letter' for the cutting edge music industry thinking on this.


carrew said...

Saw you tweet this Tom, read it and thought I'd add a pennys worth.

Buying albums was for me a right of passage in my teenage years. You had to have the latest Bad Co/Yes/Zep/Floyd recordings. Part of it was to see the Roger Dean artwork, but mainly it was to hear the music. My record store of choice at that time was "Listen" in Glasgow. Ah the nostalgia....

I can't remember the owners name, but latterly my CD buying came from Goldrush Records in Perth. Much like your Clive's Records, Goldrush was a great place to have your musical tastes broadened.
Sadly it too has stopped trading. However at a recent gig in Kinross lo and behold "Goldrush" has reappeared. He's got a room adjacent to the gig room at the Green Hotel and whenever there's a gig on open up for CD/vinyl sales. Otherwise he trades on ebay. I guess this supports the view that CD/vinyl shops will only exist in niche markets.

The point you make about Spotify and others is good. Until a recent business trip abroad I'd not fully realised how much of my listening is through Spotify. It only hit home to me when I went to find several playlists on my iPod and they weren't there. I'm on a free acount so I don't have off-line access. But I might now be being persuaded to buy a premium account. The "killer app" for me of Spotify is the size of it's catalogue. Whenever I want I can find almost any song I want to listen to. That's an edge a store will never beat. But I can't have Spotify in my car. I can't have Spotify on holiday. (or maybe I could with the premium and offline mode). So I still buy CDs, but many fewer than before.

Single Track said...

Sadly I think you're right. Though there's nothing quite like a good independent shop, whether second hand or not. I, most probably through pigheadedness, always prefer to buy 'actual' product rather than digital but even at that I tend to get them at Mind you, I'm around 100miles from the nearest record shop, the wonderful Imperial Music in Inverness. To be honest I've bought very little over the last 12-18 months as, Admiral Fallow and Frightened Rabbit aside, everything seems to have a very tired 'been done before' sound to it. Next purchase will be the Roddy Woomble solo record which, as a result of typing this, decided to try to buy in an actual shop!

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are right and having been in Clive's it will be a loss.
However there is still a merket for collectors and living in Malvern I have found a local business that seems to show the way forward. ( They have a warehouse where you can browse new and second hand lps and cds but it is the mail order business that is the main business - plus the record label (they are I believe reissuing Eddi Reader's wonderful Burns songs on vinyl shortly) - so there is a way forward for independents; it is just different from what was done before.
Given this there is no reason why an independent in Lerwick could not be viable but whether Clive (or anyone else) would want to make the change to a totally different business model is the question as it involves other businmess skills.

norrie said...

Can only speak for myself. I will always buy a CD and when I can afford it the vinyl (which is just getting a wee bit too expensive for me).

I've tried downloading, it just does not work for me.

Get out and support record store day folks 19th April!