Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to celebrate the sellers of well-grooved wax, says Alex Lawson

Against the odds, record stores have managed to shake off their image as dingy meccas for music snobs and coax a new breed of fans hooked on hip-again vinyl. This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to celebrate the sellers of well-grooved wax.

Record Store Day (RSD) first emerged in 2007 in the US when music fans, fearful that their beloved local shops faced closure, created an occasion to celebrate their unique culture. Seven years later, the annual event has ballooned into a global festival, with shops offering exclusive releases and hosting gigs.

The best Record Store Day exclusives

In the US, 700 shops will mark the day and in Europe events will take place in France, Italy, Turkey and Spain. In the UK, hundreds will queue up outside 200 independents to get their mitts on one-off releases from artists including those as disparate as the Pixies, Quantic Soul Orchestra and, surprisingly, One Direction. The boy band sensation have spotted vinyl's resurgent cool status and are releasing 5,000 copies of a picture disc, Midnight Memories.

A classical music shop in Abergavenny is stocking punk records for the first time, Coda Music in Edinburgh is offering bacon rolls for customers queuing overnight and Adam Ant is playing live at Rough Trade West in Notting Hill, London, among hundreds of events. Berwick Street in Soho will host a street festival.

RSD organiser Spencer Hickman says: "It has given music fans an excuse to support the shops that they love and recognise their role in finding new music."

"Record Store Day offers an excuse to walk into a shop and add a few grams to the record collection that's breaking my back each time I move house," avid record collector and amateur radio presenter Tom Bonnett explains. "Importantly, it also serves as a reminder that the internet might offer the widest range, but the human gatekeepers behind the counter of a trusted record shop always throw up more interesting, quality and distinctive releases."

 

The growth of RSD is testament to the strength of feeling dedicated music lovers have for independent shops. A crate full of adversaries have wrestled their custom away over the last few decades, first music chains, then supermarkets and, perhaps most damagingly, the internet. Competition from the latter was widely blamed for the collapse of HMV into administration last year and, although it continues to trade in a slimmed-down form, it remains the UK's last record store chain.

But has RSD actually achieved its aim, to ensure the survival and prosperity of the shops? The figures appear positive. Between 2004 and 2009, 540 shops closed, but the rate of closures has since slowed and the number of independents actually edged up to 296 in 2013 from 293 in 2012. Vinyl album sales have rocketed 72 per cent on last year in the first three months of the year and are set to top £16 million. "RSD has given the shops more confidence, encouraged them to host more in-store gigs, have a cafe and sell more vinyl," says Hickman.

Stores have also been buoyed by the abolition, in 2012, of Low Value Consignment, a legal loophole which had allowed the likes of play.com and Amazon to undercut shops on price by trading from the low-tax Channel Islands.

"The news was overshadowed by the Pasty Tax, but it was a huge boost," says Graham Jones, author of Last Shop Standing (Whatever Happened to Record Shops?). "Overnight, the shops were selling at the same price as online." But Jones warns that the threat to shops' existence is far from over. "It is worrying to see the major labels aligning themselves with the internet, be it Beyoncé releasing exclusively on iTunes or a Small Faces box set sold directly online, rather than through shops. If the labels can release exclusives on Record Store Day they can support the shops year-round," he says.

Record shops clearly have the potential to stand out on the high street, but they will have to continue to differentiate themselves from the cavernous choice offered online in order to survive and grow.

Record Store Day is this Saturday: recordstoreday.co.uk

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