Record breaker: Where can the money-conscious music-lover find the best deals?

Armed with only £30 - and an eye for a bargain - Elisa Bray set out to buy every album on the Mercury Prize shortlist

After reading about the latest proposed attempt to stop illegal internet downloads and file-sharing by imposing a £30 licence fee on those downloading music, I set about trying out the various ways in which you can buy music – and as cheaply as possible. Since the 12 Mercury nominees will be the names gracing most music-lovers' shopping lists this week, my mission is to purchase the lot for as close to £30 as possible.

The first challenge is to track them all down. There's always a random act on the Mercury list (typically jazz) that nobody has heard of, and this year's appears to be Portico Quartet, whose album Knee Deep in the North Sea few of the stores have in stock. Leeds independent store Jumbo Records' response is typical: "Portico who? Who are they?" Other shops claim to be adding it to their stock list because of the nomination. London independent shop Sister Ray is also missing it, as well as Laura Marling's Alas I Cannot Swim, which has just sold out. The shop assistant says that they have shifted "loads" of the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album Raising Sand, as well as Radiohead's In Rainbows, Burial's Untrue and The Last Shadow Puppets' The Age of the Understatement since the announcement on Tuesday. Up-to-the-minute independent shop Rough Trade East has got Knee Deep, however, and it will be holding an instore gig with the contemporary jazz band next week. Other shops are missing the odd album because they have sold out due to their popularity since the Mercury nominations were announced.

On the high street, prices are much lower. When I visit one London branch, HMV has sold out of Untrue – the assistant's choice to win the prize. He has a gripe with the choice of nominees, which he considers to be too safe, lacking innovation, and with far too many acts not strictly complying with the British and Irish criteria.

So £30 for 12 albums? It's not possible. You can trawl through second-hand shops and pick up the odd bargain, but, buying all 12 in one go, I found that prices weren't rock bottom even for used CDs. Second-hand shop Flashback in Essex Road, North London, came up trumps, with all 12 albums costing only £84.88. But, as was to be expected, purchasing online was the cheapest place to find all the CDs new and at once. And then there's downloading from iTunes and 7Digital – well, it can't compare with free, can it?

The complete list of nominees is: Adele, '19'; British Sea Power, 'Do You Like Rock Music?'; Burial, 'Untrue'; Elbow, 'The Seldom Seen Kid'; Estelle, 'Shine'; Laura Marling, 'Alas, I Cannot Swim'; Neon Neon, 'Stainless Style'; Portico Quartet, 'Knee Deep in the North Sea'; Rachel Unthank, 'The Bairns'; Radiohead, 'In Rainbows'; Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, 'Raising Sand'; The Last Shadow Puppets', 'The Age of the Understatement'; the winner will be announced on 9 September

On the high street

The cheapest place to buy new CDs on the spot, reliable HMV has 11 of the 12 CDs in stock. When I went shopping, it had not yet begun its Mercury promotion and I was assured that prices would drop nearer the time of the award. Step into the Oxford Street store in central London and, predictable as the CD shopping experience may be (the quicker you get it done the better), the job is carried out as slickly as at independent shops Rough Trade East and Sister Ray. HMV has run out of Burial's album, but everything else is in stock and at the cheapest price we found for a new instant purchase. At HMV's biggest high street rival Zavvi (formerly Virgin Megastore) the total for the 12 albums came to £108, with each one ranging in price from £7 to £9.

Our best buy: HMV, £95.70


It can be time-consuming, but unearthing the CDs at second-hand shops can save you pounds. If you're willing to trawl several shops you can find a few bargains at a time. National chain Music and Video Exchange is always a good source of up-to-date second-hand CDs: prices start at around £10 and get knocked down by a pound for each month they're in stock. Its Notting Hill, London, branch had three of the CDs in stock – Adele, Elbow and British Sea Power – priced between £8 and £9. The cheapest store was Flashback on London's Essex Road, which had all the albums in stock. Loyalty to the shop gains you favourable discounts – according to the assistant, the price "depends on who you are" – and, despite it being a second-hand shop, it had all 11 albums in stock with average prices for the collection, ranging from £5.99 to £8.99. Excellent.

Our best buy: Flashback, London N1, £84.88

Independent retailers

By far the best record-buying experience and always full of attentive and knowledgeable staff. Of all the independent shops we checked out, Avalanche in Glasgow was the cheapest at £103.89 for all but Portico Quartet's album, with Sister Ray in London closely following at £108.88.

I started my search in London's most fashionable and newest independent store, Rough Trade East, in the hub of the trendy East End. There, record-buying is an old-fashioned pleasure. One customer's request to hear a CD is answered and, on the day I visit, shop staff are keen to tell me that one of the Mercury nominees Neon Neon will be turning up in a DeLorean car (the name of the engineer subject of their concept album Stainless Style) to play a gig. There is just one CD the shop doesn't stock – Estelle's Shine – but some of the CDs are not cheap, priced up to £15.99. But it's all about the experience – you could devote a whole afternoon to browsing in Rough Trade East with its instore café and free internet access.

Next I head off to the grimy back streets of Soho and the infamous Berwick Street, which has long been a source of vinyl and CD, both new and second-hand. There, the second-hand shop Revival has replaced the famous Reckless Records, but none of the Mercury albums appears to be in stock. Staff point me in the direction of Sister Ray, one of the few independent stores to have stood the test of time, a warren of musical treasures since 1981. Its albums are well priced for an independent shop in London, costing from £8.99 for Adele's 19 and Estelle's Shine, to £10.99 for Burial's Untrue. Jumbo Records, going strong in Leeds for 37 years, was more expensive at £118.86 for all but Portico Quartet's album.

Our best buy: Avalanche Records, Glasgow, £103.89


The cheapest place overall to buy CDs is Amazon Marketplace, where the full second-hand or new collection will set you back approximately £76.37 plus postage. Buying directly from Amazon, the price is almost identical at £95.76, but add on the postage and you're quickly paying more (Super Saver delivery is free, but takes longer). CD Wow is another online retailer that's offering the full list, while is the other option. At the latter, the 12 CD bundle comes to £98.68; first-class postage is included. If you're not bothered about owning a physical copy, digital download store 7digital comes out marginally cheaper than iTunes. At £86.50, its 12-album package is £3 cheaper than iTunes.

Our best buy: Amazon Marketplace, £76.37

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own