Indie Record Shops Learning To Adapt

from the it's-a-different-world dept

Over the past few years, we’ve talked about ways that musicians and record labels can (and have) adapted to the changing music marketplace, but the case of brick-and-mortar music retailers is an one. The big players: Tower, Wherehouse and Virgin Music have mostly all disappeared. Music sales in big box retailers (Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.) remain narrowly focused on top hits and don’t get much shelf-space (Best Buy recently announced plans to cut music inventory by half). However, smaller, indie record shops have been learning to adapt. More than five years ago, we wrote about some indie shops recognizing that they needed to become more of a destination, rather than a “record store.” And over the years, we’ve seen more and more and more stories of smaller record stores learning to adapt.

The latest, sent in by Dave W looks at a bunch of shops in the UK that appear to have realized that they need to completely change — including one that’s really focused on being a destination for people to hang out and buy coffee… while hearing music (often live music) and then selling only special physical goods: limited edition box sets and vinyl. And, apparently for some of these shops, business is better than before. Despite the disappearance of regular CD sales, they’ve more than made it up selling other music-related goods. It’s about recognizing that people still do want physical goods, but they view it as a souvenir, to show support for the musicians, rather than buying “the music” itself. The music, to them, is free. But that doesn’t mean they won’t pay for goods of value. And retailers can absolutely support that new market as well.

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Comments on “Indie Record Shops Learning To Adapt”

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Adam Wexler (profile) says:


Hey Mike,

I personally believe indie record shops (in popular music towns) have a long & sustainable “shelf-life”…assuming they’re willing to adapt. I think many of the things mentioned above are dead on.

I’ve heard Starbucks termed as the ’21st Century Library” before. Why can’t record stores be the equivalent for all the hipsters?

It’s all about the experience, and that’s why turning the shops into a “destination” of sorts is absolutely the way to go.

We need record stores…and they need us!

Big Al says:

I'm showing my age here but...

I can remember one of the original Virgin Record stores in the UK back in the early 70s (by the clocktower in Brighton if I remeber correctly). Incense(?) in the air, records in old orange crates and, if you wanted to hear what you were buying, half a dozen bean-bags scattered around the walls under wired-in headphones so you could listen to a side of an album before deciding.
The whole concept (and the fact the albums were cheaper than at HMV) made it a place to be seen as well as a retail outlet.
Who today has the kind of vision to take a risk like that?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What you miss is that much of what he is posting as “adaptation” is pretty much what has been around in the past. Record stores with coffee machines aren’t really new, some records stores have been the front doors of night clubs in the past, etc. Many of them in the past sold t-shirts, tour posters, and all sorts of stuff.

The funny part? That was mostly back when there were plenty of record stores, before people started widespread “infringing” online, which pretty much killed the business for most of these places. In my city here, there use to be probably 30+ really good indie record stores. Slowly but surely they have been picked off, first when people moved from vinyl to CD, and again when people moved from CD to online. Now I think there is only 2, and they seem to to end up catering mostly to punk rock fans and fans of truly obscure music. Otherwise, they would be totally dead.

I guess they are only good when the set loooooots of t-shirts.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There is that plural thing again.

Correct title is “Indie Record Shop Learning to Adapt”.

Nope. We linked to multiple different stories about multiple different stores. And, even if you limit it to the most recent story, that one covers the story of 3 different record stores.

So what’s the problem with the plural thing, again?

Yair Yona (user link) says:

It's all about creating an experience for the consumer

As someone who worked in a record shop in Tel Aviv, which musically was similar to alternative shops like Aquarium or Tequila Sunrise etc – people used to come to talk to the person behind the counter as someone who’s a taste maker, asking him to be the ‘filter’ and deliver the good stuff only, after learning that his taste is similar to theirs.

Limited editions etc are cool and important, but it will be wise for shops to create a more intimate vibe, offer a cup of coffee, a nice chat about the importance of this or that band, and argue for hours which one is the best – Blond on Blond or Blood On The Tracks etc.

Create the personal experience that cannot be achieved online is the secret, and I think it’ll be wise for most shops to enable people to listen in the store, buy the cd or vinyl, but have a sync cables of all sorts, to get the music on the consumer’s mp3 player, before he leaves the store, so he’ll be able to carve his hunger until he gets home.

Xanthir, FCD (profile) says:

It's like he can see into my mind...

It’s about recognizing that people still do want physical goods, but they view it as a souvenir, to show support for the musicians, rather than buying “the music” itself. The music, to them, is free. But that doesn’t mean they won’t pay for goods of value.

This puts into words exactly what I’ve always thought about live music. When I buy a CD of a band it’s not to listen to the music – I can get that online. It’s to show that *I was there*, and to spread a little love (and lucre) to the band.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s all well and good for large cities, but smaller towns and even mid-sized cities have seen the extinction of record/CD/etc stores, indie or otherwise. The bare fact is that in today’s world there are just some things that are better delivered electronically, and music is a perfect example.

I realize that there are a few hardcore oldsters out there who want to buy vinyl, but please! That market is not enough to support more than the odd shop. T-shirts? Posters? Tickets? All can be bought more easily and conveniently online. All that leaves is the snotty punk behind the counter who sneers at you when you buy a Hannah Montana CD because it’s not hip enough for his minimum wage tastes. And the last thing I want to do is listen to a couple of burnouts brag loudly and obviously about the merits of Dylan albums so that all within earshot can be apprised of their “knowledge”.

This is a dying industry, and all the “look how they’re changing!” stories won’t alter the fact that they will be all but gone within the next decade. Sorry, hippies. You’ll have to find another place to buy your incense…maybe online?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They will be extinct… except for the large cities that this only works at… so not really extinct at all but getting close to it!

We’ll ignore college towns that have a decent hippie population too.

HELLO world! Welcome to the internet age! Brick and mortar shops in general are dieing left and right.

Danny says:

Location, Location, Location

While a lot of people will argue over big store/small store or big band/small band I think the real issues is going to be large city/middle of nowhere.

Those indie music stores may be doing fine with their new ideas these days but they will only work where you have a lot of poeple with widely diverse taste in music. I live in what you call the middle of nowhere and if its not country, rap/hip hop, or gospel its not played (hell even the radio station in my area only play those three genres plus a bit of classical and NPR). Yeah there are a few people in this area who don’t fall into that category but not enough to sustain a store like Mike is talking about here.

Well at least there is online (well considering that broadband is still not commonplace in rural areas perhaps not…).

jilocasin (profile) says:

On a slightly different matter....

While we are discussing the whole “be a destination” vs. “sell stuff” dichotomy, I was dismayed to see our local Borders go the opposite way. They used to have friendly knowledgeable staff, a cozy coffee/snack area, the ability to order books and have them paid for and picked up at the store.

Recently they did away with their ‘cozy coffee area’, replacing it with a smaller, harsher, coffee seller with fewer high hard backed chairs, a more cafeteria feel.

They replaced some of their staff with what I can only suppose are cheaper, less informed people.

They no longer let you order books and have then delivered to the store, you have to go to

Predictably, at least to most of the readers here, people stopped ‘hanging out’ there. They stopped asking the staff their opinions about different books, and many went to instead of as Amazon’s prices are usually 10% to 15% cheaper.

The local Borders used to do a fairly thriving business. Since these changes they’ve had such a drop off of customers that they’ve let go staff, and reduced the inventory to about half of what it was.

They were a popular destination, now they are a more expensive Walmart.

Ben says:

How is this bad?

Music stores closing, big box has only the top ten, the consumer gets sued for downloading a song from ten years ago. I should repeat this but I won’t. Why is it that when music is being made either completely unavailable or excessively hard to obtain, the user gets harassed for resorting to the last available alternative? I agree the band needs to be paid. Everyone in between needs to as well to ensure the smooth flow from the record studio to the consumer, but this is hardly the case anymore. Record studios dont make money from selling records, no! They make money from lawsuits. At least that seems to be their current market plan.

When I want to listen to a song, where can it be found? Online downloads, of the DRM acceptable variety rarely have what I am looking for. Music stores never do. Often the only place to find it is to download it. Perhaps the music industry should consider this and make every single song available for download online before suing anyone.

Steve Jarvis (profile) says:

Delivery of Music

Surely the format of music has changed since the inception of the phonograph to the CD age, where it has almost disappear in itself to now where music is delivered via a wire to a tin box we all call either a laptop, P.C., MAC or a cell phone. What these digital enthusiast do not realize is how the same technology that has allowed music to be delivered instantaneously anywhere has also change the signature of it in the process. This technology age of the super computer has replaced the vital circuitry that once used to bring the artist to his musical instruments, gadgets and recording equipment. Now has disappear to virtually a single piece of all-in-wonder super computer that provides everything the artist needs to a touch of button (well technically will admit to the use of the mouse and a shift and toggle if the user is a savvy one). This ability has seriously change the signature of music composing and how it’s made. With the essence of the musician seeking ways to create the sound he is looking for with the tweaking of different instruments, gadgets and a sound board, now he has a data bank, which gives him a basic or raw sound that he is seeking to create. A little tweaking with the mouse, presto! Ah-la! He has created a sound that came from a single piece of music generator.

This music technology has changed every form of modern music along with the artist that creates it. This in turn has changed the musical outlets that once served the demanding public, which used to be the vital indicators of a “hit” or not. Sales pushed the foundations of an artist to succeed to the next level or remain as a one hit wonder. Before C&C Music Factory was even a concept, Robert Civiles used to be employed a record store at a now defunct infamous store called Downtown Records in NYC that has long been gone. I remember going there at an early of 15 years old. He gained the ability to interact with the music enthusiasts along with them seeking his guidance to know what records were “hot” at the time. I am sure this interaction along his already out productions under different monikers with partner David Coles led to their creation of C&C Music Factory hits. This valuable interaction, which Robert Civiles gained from working at a record store, now has long been gone from the artist and their audience. Not every artist is a d.j. or record store employee, but with sales being indicator of an artist success, we have the technology & technology seekers destroying the vital essence of what once was! No more originality in the music of today, it’s just a P.C. “spiting song after song” through the creation the artist and those seek it to download it free.

Now the dilemma get worst, these former record stores turn into communal gathering place have to sell items, which reflects the artist image either being a t-shirt or an item, no longer reflects the music they have created, which essentially is what a record store used to only sell. Minus those 70’s & 80’s record stores that sold disco balls and strobe lights along with your Fran’ken & Muir. The delivery of music has been left to a wire (or wireless depending on how your connected to the World Wide Web) and a metal gadget with who seek it.

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