survival of the independent record store

Some day this month, Vinyl Junkies, one of the few surviving independent record stores on London’s infamous Berwick Street, will close its doors for the last time. What was once “a mecca for any self-respecting record collector”, Berwick Street is now a living example of the effects of mp3 culture, with only three record stores still left standing.

It’s been the same tale for years now: record stores are dying off, and Sydney is no exception. Whether they will completely disappear or not is anyone’s guess. beats & pieces asked two surviving Sydney stores, both operating within different markets, how and why they have managed to stay viable and relevant.

Mark Murphy – Spank! Records

How is it that a specialised store like Spank! still manages to survive in this digital age?

With a dance music specialist like us, you’ve got to stock more than just vinyl these days. Selling only vinyl will not make you money anymore – it only accounts for around 15 – 20 % of our revenue now. We sell it because it still ticks over and because people are still interested in it and because we can still sell what we get in.

But you’ve got to start stocking other forms of business like hardware and software now, because that’s where you’re going to make your money. Our way of staying viable was to go more into the production side of things. There are so many kids out there producing music now, more so than there ever was, basically because it’s a lot easier to do than it was ten years ago. The technology and software available today makes it far easier to produce music. I think the younger generation want to become producers and performers as opposed to DJs now, because it’s easier. They can cut out the middle-man and don’t have to DJ to get their music out there anymore.

So yeah, that’s where the money is now, it’s in software and hardware and it’s what you need to be involved with in order to survive in this market.

You’ve had the online mp3 sales arm of the store for quite a while now. Is it hard competing with download sites like Beatport and Juno Download?

Definitely. Those two I would say have the monopoly on the market, especially Beatport. What we want to do eventually is become more localised and community based with what digitals we sell. Obviously we still need to sell the major distributors if we can get them, but we’d like to be more locally focused and release music from local labels.

I guess that’s a good way to get an edge on the big sites like that, by going more local?

Yeah, just focus more on Australia and make the Spank! site a hub for local producers as well as a place for people to hear local stuff. So that’s what we’re trying to do, but it takes time. We’ve got the structure there already, which is the hardest thing to do, and now we just need time to develop it.

I know that the Spank! Records blog is going really well. Was that started as a way to create more of an awareness of the store, not only here but overseas?

We initially started the blog as a way of advertising new products, but no one was really reading it, so we started to get interviews with artists in the dance scene as a way of promoting both them and our online store. And I’ve got a background in journalism too, which has helped. The blog is…it’s kind of like facebook you know? All that social media stuff is just so huge at the moment that you’d be mad not to use it as a way to promote yourself.

A lot of people are saying that vinyl will outlive the CD. Do you think that’s true?

Good Point! (Laughs) Probably! I don’t know. We started selling CDs when we first opened the shop, which was a huge mistake. We got rid of that market pretty quickly and it’s the best thing we ever did. It’s a hard market.

At the moment it seems like you might be better off owning a store that sells records as opposed to CDs?

I think so, yeah. (Laughs) It makes me laugh a little bit because I think the major labels are such old dinosaurs that want to hang on to every stream of money that they can. It’s kind of good that all this is changing so quickly I think.

Phil Thomson – The Vintage Record

In this current climate, how is it that a store like The Vintage Record is still around? Clearly there must still be a market for vinyl?

There is definitely still a market for vinyl. Definitely. A lot of the stores that have already closed down were very specialised and they only had one customer base. Our shop basically has a bit of everything, so we’re not appealing to strictly one style of music. So that increases our customer base, by having a lot of different stuff to choose from.

There seems to be a lot more younger people buying vinyl now compared to five or so years ago. Are you starting to see that at your store?

I am definitely seeing the same thing, yes. I think that’s because you can come in here and buy a Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd record or a Roxy Music record for say five dollars, but it’s going to cost you a hell of a lot more to download those albums off the web. So I think that’s part of the appeal with records for younger kids.

The growing popularity in indie has also seen the rebirth of the 7 inch single. That must surely be helping record shops?

Yeah it sure has. I think MySpace has had a lot to do with the renewed interest in the 7 inch to be honest with you. A lot of indie bands that put their music up on their MySpace; once they reach a certain number of plays on their songs, they decide to invest a little bit into maybe doing a split 7 inch with another band. Doing it that way brings the price down a bit for them. It’s a nice little collectable thing for them to offer their fan base. So yeah that has helped too.

Have you heard of the website Discogs at all?

Yes I have.

Do you use it?

No I don’t. Sites like that and even ones like ebay, people are starting to realise that anybody can put records up for sale on the internet and say that they’re in fantastic condition. Then when the record actually turns up, it’s not in fantastic condition. So people who are doing things like that on the web are actually driving people into my shop. People who come in here can pick the record up, they can look at it, they can listen to it, and they don’t have to pay postage.

It seems at the moment that a vinyl store like yours has more chance of surviving than an independent store that specialises in CDs.

I think that’s true yep. I give CDs from now probably between five and ten years maximum, and then I don’t think you’re going to see them on the market at all.

Also, on that note, I think the major record companies may start producing vinyl again. One of them already has. Universal Music brought out a range of vinyl last year called ‘Back To Black’.

Are you optimistic about the future?

Very. I was running CD shops for a good part of ten to twelve years before I bought this shop, and the whole reason for buying this shop is because I believe that records are making a comeback and CDs are declining.


1 Response to “survival of the independent record store”

  1. 1 recordstore sydney June 8, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    1o years? Phil, I reckon you are being overly generous to CDs (:

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