Vinyl demand: One in the eye for the digital prophets
As a former couple go to court in a bid to carve up their record collection, Tom Hodgkinson rejoices in the fact that our love affair with vinyl is far from over
The boss of a vintage vinyl shop in Worthing called Abstracks is suing his ex-girlfriend for hanging on to 7,000 LPs from his treasured record collection. What is sad about the lawsuit is not so much the tale of love gone wrong, but the fact that this couple tried and failed to run a vinyl record shop. Abstracks lasted only a year. It was, though, a noble venture in an age of downloads and vicious undercutting by retail giants such as Amazon.
Running a record shop that actually sells records is an appealing Nick Hornby-esque fantasy. The owner of On The Beat records, a vintage vinyl shop in central London, attracted media attention when he listed the whole lot for sale on ebay for £300,000 in an auction that ended last night. He is careful to warn prospective buyers that there won't be any profit involved. He says that the venture would suit someone who is at "that stage of life when you don't have to worry about making money".
But it's not all dismal out there as far as vinyl goes. In the early 1990s, I worked in Rough Trade, which is what you might call a proper record shop. I had a wonderful time listening to weird music all day and chatting to customers. Twenty-five years later and Rough Trade is thriving: the superstore off Brick Lane is busy, and this week it opened a new shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. New York Time Out says: "Color us excited."
Rough Trade NYC will feature live gigs and will stock vinyl. And vinyl is showing signs of a comeback. The British Phonographic Industry has reported that this year, UK vinyl sales are set to reach their highest level since 2001: it estimates that vinyl sales could reach £12m. That's still less than 1 per cent of total music sales. But it marks the beginning of an encouraging trend. More than half of these sales have been made through one of our 300 remaining independent record shops, which reported a 44 per cent increase in album sales this year. "Vinyl sounds great and looks great," says Nigel House, the co-owner of Rough Trade. "It says something about you. It signals that you are rejecting the herd."
As if to prove that shopkeeping is the new rock'n'roll, Scottish band Frankie and the Heartstrings opened their own Rough Trade-style record shop in Sunderland in June this year. Pop Recs Ltd sells vinyl, CDs and second-hand tapes, and promises to bring "vibrancy, creativity and a real sense of community to the North-east".
There is also a second-hand record shop in my local town of Barnstaple in North Devon. It's known as Matt the Hat after its owner. Last weekend, I took the kids down to this treasure trove and bought myself a mint copy of Warehouse: Songs and Stories by legendary melodic punk pioneers Hüsker Dü for a tenner.
This is all immensely cheering. It's one in the eye for the digital prophets. You must know the type I mean: the digiphiliacs, the techno-morons, the cyber-utopians. They are invariably middle-aged but claim an intimate connection with the youth. If you stand up for the old ways – for example, books or records – they get angry. They jab you in the chest and say things like, "Books are dead, man!" Or: "Young people consume their music digitally. You're living in the 20th century!"
Anyway, there are practical problems with the digital thing. You don't actually own the music; you just own the right to play back a track on your device. You can't give that song to a friend. You can't sell it.
With vinyl, you are free. No ads; no Google analytics, none of the hideous flimflammery of the digital buck-makers. Just you and the record.
The author is editor of 'The Idler'. Join the magazine's mailing list at idler.co.uk/academy
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