Flying Vinyl Blog

Vinyl: The supermarket effect

- Craig Evans

The news that Sainsbury’s is about to join Tesco in selling vinyl in-store for the first time since the 80’s has not been met with a great deal of enthusiasm. Having made the announcement a few weeks back a long line of critics have attacked the retailers for attempting to cash-in on the resurgence.

After facing a backlash from independent retailers Pete Selby, head of music and books for Sainsbury’s said: “The format never used to be elitist and we don’t believe, given the emotional attachment it still has for many customers, it should be seen as out of reach for them in 2016”

“We’re fully aware that this is a sensitive issue and clearly mindful of the potential criticisms but we genuinely believe that all retail channels can and will continue to co-exist.”

He’s absolutely correct that vinyl shouldn’t be an elitist format and criticism directed as the supermarkets was not really anything to do with that. We believe that everyone who truly cares about music should have the opportunity to experience the format and I think most retailers and industry critics feel the same way.

We do however believe that the customer should be given the opportunity to purchase music and turntables from people who know and care about the format and music. One Tesco store was recently selling all of its vinyl with security tags pinned through the outer-sleeves. These are not people who are going to be able to advise customers, spend time discussing their tastes or what the difference between a turntable that costs £70 and £250 is.

If you walk into most record shops you’ll be greeted by someone who owns the store, has sat there every day for most of their lives and knows just about everything there is to know about music. This may sound pretentious but these are people who are incredible resources for anyone wanting to discover amazing new music.

Equally if someone gets in touch with us and asks for some new music recommendations we literally drop everything that we’re doing to ensure that the person hears some mind-blowing stuff that might just change their lives. If they never sign-up with us, or purchase anything off of us, or even just want to only listen to digital music so-be-it, we do it because we care.

This will never be the case with major supermarket retailers. As a company we’ve always been deeply uncomfortable with the fact that most music distribution is being controlled and priced by tech companies who are primarily device and computer manufacturers.

This is once again an example of a series of companies from outside of the music industry heavy-handedly selling music to make a quick-buck. Tesco and Sainsbury’s know bread, not music.

Whilst attempting to fairly assess this situation I’ve got to say at this point that I don’t like supermarkets. Generally most of those major retailers make vast profits, put little back into local communities, pay little tax, have been known to swindle their books and there’s a litany of evidence that they actively keep their agricultural suppliers in debt to drive prices down.

These companies wield huge purchasing power and in doing so are able to price their products well below that of independent retailers.

Vinyl prices have been steadily rising and it must be said that many records are too expensive given the input costs. But for independent retailers it’s not going to sit well that these major retailers are able to price so cheaply.

Globally the industry suffers a lack of factory capacity with which to press records. Personally I’d like to see as much of that capacity being used to get new artists and new music onto the format and not so much being taken up by pressing the same old reissues that ultimately you could buy on Discogs for a few quid.

The supermarkets are never going to be stocking anything that isn’t chart music like Adele or old reissues of things like AC/DC. So that leads to the kicker. People who purchase vinyl from supermarkets are very unlikely to be people who are even the most casual vinyl collectors, these are going to be customers wanting to get into the format.

We can only hope that people who are purchasing from these retailers see it as a starting point to exploring other music, better equipment and different ways of purchasing and consuming music.