Record shops stage fightback

Independents say: Forget downloading, get a life
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The Independent Culture

For generations of music lovers and budding musicians Saturday afternoons would be whiled away mining for rare gems among the rows of vinyl in dusty wooden-floored record shops, decorated with posters of musical greats and staffed by people with too much musical knowledge. Friendships were formed, bands created, tips swapped, dreams dreamt and stars born. The singer Morrissey gained his musical education at Paul Marsh's record shop in Manchester's Moss Side, for example.

The era of the digital download may be killing that special record- shop experience, but this week stores world wide will be fighting back.

Saturday will mark Independent Record Store Day as 1,000 record shops in 18 countries on four continents throw open their doors to celebrate the vinyl junkies' heaven. The day is supported by some of the biggest names in the music industry ranging from Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones to author Nick Hornby, who wrote a best-selling homage to audiophiles and their retail habitat.

Across Britain, 150 shops will hold sales and provide DJs, and several will be selling new limited-edition 7" singles by bands such as the Rolling Stones, Blur and The Beatles, as part of a plan to celebrate their survival in the age of download sites such as iTunes or Spotify and highlight their wider contribution to music.

Despite the resilient determination of record buyers to return time and again, the future still looks uncertain for the independent record dealer as the recession, downloads, and supermarket and internet giants such as Amazon continue to sell music at discount prices. In 2005 there were 734 record shops in the UK, but in just over three years that figure had fallen to just 305 stores according to the Entertainment Retailers' Association.

Nick Hornby, whose novel High Fidelity featured a cantankerous record shop owner and spoke of his passion for the independent record shop, is vigorous in his support for the campaign. "Yes, yes, I know it's easier to download music, and probably cheaper," he said. "But what's playing on your favourite download store when you walk into it? Nothing. Who are you going to meet in there? Nobody. Where are the notice boards offering flat shares and vacant slots in bands destined for superstardom? Who's going to tell you to stop listening to that and start listening to this? Go ahead and save yourself a couple of quid. The saving will cost you a career, a set of cool friends, musical taste and, eventually, your soul. Record stores can't save your life. But they can give you a better one."

Record shop owners remain defiant and believe those who adapt will survive and have a future. Spencer Hickman, from the Rough Trade record sohp in Brick Lane, in London's East End, said: "This always sounds a bit harsh when I say this, but I think that those which have closed, closed because they weren't good enough to survive. I think lots of stores close because they didn't move along and evolve. We know our customers could buy their records online if they wanted. So what you have to do is offer them a service they can't get online."

Ozzie Hirst of Flashback Records in Islington, north London, believes there has even been a resurgence in people buying vinyl from his shop: "The people who are buying records today, are buying records more enthusiastically. We had a massive increase in vinyl sales in the last couple of years. We've been here since 1997, so we're established which helps."

Bruce Springsteen has also added his voice to support the event: "I hate to see record stores disappear and I'm old-school in that I think you should pay for your music."