Yesterday I read a blog post by Lindsey from April 2016 about supermarkets selling vinyl records, which had a negative opinion about it. I tend to agree with this but only to a point. As with CD’s, supermarkets sell what is in the charts or cheap re-issues of greatest hits, they don’t sell anything unusual or difficult to obtain, and don’t tend to do new releases unless they are by the biggest and most obvious artists. The same is currently true of their foray back into vinyl, they are all re-issues and offer and extremely limited selection at present. If it stays this way I’d have no problem with that, and was discussing it with the owner of Seismic Records in Leamington Spa the other month, who expressed concern. I understood this but as said then, it opens the door for him in many ways as somebody buying one of these supermarket vinyls will, most likely, want to dig deeper into what is available, and where will they go to do that?
I think there is a degree of faddishness around the current increase in interest in vinyl records, which will fade again eventually, perhaps not in to the depths of obscurity that it fell before, but it will subside I believe and when it does, supermarkets will lose interest, but my positive outlook is that they will have helped fuel enough interest in enough people to sustain vinyl sales at a worthwhile level for the labels and artists to continue using it as a format.
I remember well when my own interest faded, which was due to CD’s. I didn’t have a CD player for a long time after the format became as big as it did but bought CD’s when I could anyway, in readiness for when I could get a player. I stopped buying vinyl at that point and when I finally got my CD player I started selling a lot of my records, which I regret now but there’s no point dwelling on that. The advent of MP3’s resulted in the same thing happening again, I stopped buying CD’s and now, with the advent of streaming music services I no longer buy MP3’s. Yet I’ve gone backwards, and buy Vinyl having not done so for a period of what must have been at least 10 years, probably 15. My remaining records went in a couple of crates in the loft, along with my music system as I played everything through bluetooth speakers from my phone or plugged my ipod into a dock and played things from there. One day I just brought it all back down from the loft, set it up, and I was of again, and there were a few reasons for this.
The first is ownership, I never really felt comfortable about owning MP3’s, I want something physical that I can hold and say, ‘This belongs to me’, which may be a bit shallow, a bit materialistic, but I don’t care. The second is size, CD’s are too small, I actually can’t read the liner notes nowadays (I do need new glasses though to be fair) as the text is so tiny and the artwork just looks better bigger. The third is most certainly a sense of nostalgia because it’s the format I grew up with. The fourth and final reason that comes to mind now is the sound, though I am not going to enter into any discussion of Digital vs Analogue the difference for me is that I am much more likely to play a record without headphones so that the sound fills the room, so that it travels through air to the ear making it seem richer and more real to me (and I like the crackles and pops as well, back to nostalgia).
Back to the supermarkets though, this is what I saw yesterday in my nearest large supermarket:
And, for the very first time, a turntable, a crap one, but a turntable all the same:
The albums are all pretty much classics, which I guess is a loss for the real record stores as it is their bread and butter I would think, but if you buy ‘The Queen Is Dead’ by the Smiths you may well want more, which the supermarkets don’t provide (bad choice actually as they do ‘Meat Is Murder’ as well), they do a couple of Beatles, a couple of Pink Floyd, a couple of Bowie and so on. If I look at the last 49 albums I bought, they don’t stock any of them, they did stock the 50th though as I bought it form there. Not a bad ratio although I am possibly not the best example of a normal purchaser of records.
All in all I think it’s neither a good thing or a bad thing that supermarkets stock vinyl, as long as they don’t try and provide what a real record store can, which I don’t think they will do. What is more worrying is the large corporate labels using up the limited resources of the record plants on re-issues of vinyl that could be picked up for a couple of pounds in a charity shop to the detriment of the independent labels.
There is some delicate balancing to be done to ensure that the independent record store and publisher do not suffer too badly, and this can be done by the consumer. Personally I will always be using the record store and not the supermarket, at least at that 1 out of every 50 ratio as a maximum.