Record Stores: They’re Really Not Necessary, Especially If You Get Everything For Free

Mar 13th, 2007 // 6 Comments

amoe.jpgFormer Creation Records honcho Alan McGee–the man behind such missives as “Music Magazines: Sorta Sucky” and “The Jesus & Mary Chain: Biggest Band Of All Time”–is back with a new rant on his Guardian blog, this time about the end of record stores:

When was the last time you went into a record shop? It was about a month ago in Tokyo for me. It was a boutique type of establishment, a bit like Rough Trade – it had vinyl and all the hip releases. Yet it still felt like a museum. All the music I want I can get off Amazon or go on MySpace to hear. There’s no real need for record shops any more.

I feel more love for my iPod than the CDs I buy. Unless I want to DJ, or it’s an all time favourite, I pack my CDs off to my house in Wales. My son and daughter will no doubt come to love some of them when they go through them in years to come. My son, who’s 18, is obsessed by vinyl and took about 150 7″ singles away from Wales. He’d been buying them in Bill’s in Portobello Road at 30 quid a shot, so now he loves the Scars and the Bodines.

Nothing will ever beat vinyl for me, but digital technology has changed our world, and for the better, though it would be great in the future if some genius could copy the Japanese and get the artists paid. In Japan it’s all about the telephone and getting it downloaded to that. I’m a 46-year-old Luddite, but even I’ve been dragged into the digital world. It’s easier and more fun than the way we’ve been getting served for the last 20 years. No wonder record shops feel ancient.

This is hardly the most head-splitting revelation, of course–and honestly, it feels even lazier than most of McGee’s posts (Wow, you went to Japan, and the record stores felt old? Tell us more!). But McGee neglects to mention that his employment in the music industry means that his record-store needs are different than those of most consumers: Instead of looking for deals or discoveries, he’s looking for the oddball release that will set this store apart from the thousands of other shops he’s visited in his life. He doesn’t need someone to steer him toward the new Arcade Fire record–he’s got three promotional copies sitting in his mail bin. Far too many music-biz employees (and writers) forget that people living outside of the mailing-list bubble–the people who actually, you know, have to pay for this stuff–occasionally still rely on stores to help them find new artists and albums (hence the success of Amoeba Music). Granted, a lot of this shopping is now done online, but that’s no reason to write off the store-hopping experience altogether.

Do we still need record shops? [Guardian]

  1. Ned Raggett

    My son, who’s 18, is obsessed by vinyl and took about 150 7″ singles away from Wales. He’d been buying them in Bill’s in Portobello Road at 30 quid a shot

    I just got back from a week-long UK visit and 30 quid = around 60 bucks. So if Alan McGee’s son had been casually spending that much on singles in general pre-Dad collection raiding and he’s only eighteen, I’d like to know what the hell his allowance rate has been all these years.

  2. Cam/ron

    Good call on the mailing-list bubble. It also reminds me of the times when critics attack the “mainstream” audience for not buying enough copies of an Important, Seminal Album by A Band That Truly Matters. Not everyone can afford $30 import CDs, let alone actually find them at their local record shop.

  3. johndavidson

    McGee’s employment in the industry is irrelevant, unless being, say, a college student is a similar disqualifier given the campus bandwidth environment and the widespread sharing that goes on in that demo. Yeah, there’s no reason to write off the record store experience (even the”occasional” one), but there’s also no reason to think that it’s going to last. And that’s Alan’s point.

  4. musette

    The best part of a record store experience is finding something great recommended by someone whose taste you trust.

    Though I hate to say it, blogs are the new record store. I have certain blogs whose taste I trust, so when they say you should buy this, I click through to amazon or itunes and buy it.

  5. chaircrusher

    Record stores have always been a hangout for me, as much as a place to buy something. I like being able to download stuff and watch some music blogs, but it’s not the same as going to a physical place where the music is.

    Obviously, the record store business is going down hill these days, but it’s like any other retail operation — if a store adds value to what they’re selling, they’ll stay in business.

    If they’re overpriced barns full of clueless minimum wage slackers like Tower Records, they’re doomed.

    And as for vinyl: you can still play records that are over 100 years old. Will CDs still be playable in 100 years?

  6. 30f

    Almost all of the appendages of the record industry are withering away.

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