Mainstream music retailers need a new narrative if they are to re-engage consumers

Wednesday July 31, 2013

It was a minor footnote in ERA researcher Luke Butler's half year review, but the number was so extraordinary it just leapt out of the deck.

Sales of albums through independent music retailers in the first half of 2013 were 44.1% up on the same period last year.

Of course the numbers are small. Despite that 44% growth indie retailers still only account for around 3% of the market. Despite its 95% growth, vinyl still accounts for only 0.4% of the albums market.

And yet it comes, as we all know, against the background of 20,30, 40 years of decline for the independent sector and of a broader music market which declined 1.5% in that same first half.

It's a story.

So it was that the news of indie retailers' stunning first half made it not just in the trades, but it led The Times Business section, hit the news pages of The Guardian, was featured on Radio 4's PM programme and even made it into the pages of The Sun.

In the wake of Record Store Day and vinyl's revival, indies have finally found their purpose and their narrative. It is the perfect complement to the ongoing rise of the download and the runaway success of streaming.

It is a clear, easily-understandable pitch that even those with no interest in music can grasp.

But while both indies and digital music services have found their narrative, that is far from true for the mainstream physical retailers who still account for the bulk of the albums market.

Confronted with the range and price competitiveness of the internet and the 24-7 immediacy of digital, it would be hardly surprising if consumers asked themselves precisely what a mainstream music store is for any more.

The extent to which those stores can come up with a convincing answer to that question will not only determine their own future, but it will also determine whether music itself will retain its still-massive High Street presence.


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