Physical Success in a Digital World: The Vinyl Resurgence

Physical Success in a Digital World: The Vinyl Resurgence

Amongst the currently highly challenging trading environment for both physical and online retail, it’s worth highlighting that there are still plenty of encouraging stories out there. For example, the reborn HMV recently announced profits more than doubled in its last financial year driven by the resurgence of vinyl records plus its wider pop culture offering.

And it’s not just HMV that is benefitting from this, as music trade body the BPI stated that vinyl LP sales had reached their highest level since 1990, with sales of nearly 6 million units in 2023 growing by 11.7% in 2022. While digital streaming continues to dominate music consumption – accounting for more than 80% of all UK listening, some 180 billion streams in 2023 – physical formats are carving out their own specific niche as well.

What’s Helping to Drive These Increased Sales?

Innovation and desirability of vinyl

In an age where most recorded music is available instantly to everybody all of the time via streaming services, the vinyl LP is increasingly seen as an artistic, collectible object – and not just the required utility to hear the new record by your favourite band as was the case in the pre-digital age. This has resulted in innovations such as bespoke packaging and coloured variants for often limited edition runs that increase the desirability of new releases. For example, a collective of independent record shops offer highly collectible “Dinked Editions” focusing on new albums as well as selected “Dinked Archive Editions” for records celebrating notable anniversaries. 

And it’s a mix of old and new that also drives vinyl sales – with 2023’s UK vinyl top 10 including the latest from the likes of Lana Del Rey and Olivia Rodrigo alongside classic best sellers by Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac. Also in the top 10 are new releases from classic heritage acts like the Rolling Stones and Blur, plus perhaps unsurprisingly 3 Taylor Swift albums.

Events, experiences and a sense of community

As well as the physical tangibility of the records themselves, there is also an ever growing programme of in-store events that are helping to foster a real sense of community and ultimately get people buying more records. The most visible of these is April’s annual national Record Store Day, which reported that it increased vinyl sales by 122% in 2023.

Plus, many record stores across the land offer a significant number of in-store events, ranging from signings and Q&As with featured artists to full-on mini-gigs, or even “out-stores” in collaboration with local venues. Buying the latest release is often required for entry, especially for higher profile acts, while the widely shared social media updates benefit both the store plus the band looking to boost its all important week one album sales.

Enticing store environments

Of course, there need to be actual physical stores for such events to occur – and this is another area where some notable openings have recently occurred, such as HMV’s reopening of its iconic Oxford Street store in November 2023 after a four year absence.

The king of the independent sector Rough Trade announced last month that is soon to open a new store in Liverpool, which will be its largest UK location, trumpeting its “largest venue space” showing the importance of mixing experiences with physical product. And the pleasure for many music fans of just whiling away the time flicking through record racks on the hunt for new discoveries still remains.

A strong online presence remains vital

It’s also worth stating that despite this recent growth, the number of available outlets to purchase records in is still way down on its 70s and 80s heyday. So, a strong online store presence is essential for all music outlets to cater to customers not near a thriving store, or who simply want a new release delivered to their home on the day of release.

Plus the role of dedicated marketplaces, such as the record collector’s dream database and marketplace Discogs, plus artist friendly Bandcamp, should not be under-rated. In tough times for less mainstream artists, initiatives such as Bandcamp Friday (commission free DTC sales for participating bands for one day each month) are much appreciated by the contributing acts and their fans who want to support them.

Are There Any Take-Outs Relevant For Other Sectors?

So can we learn anything more general from the record/vinyl sector’s recent renaissance? We’ve pulled out 3 main pointers that we think will be relevant to many more categories:

Offering experiences simply not available digitally

Increasingly, events and shared experiences are treasured, especially amongst younger consumers, so providing something “extra” not achievable with just a click of a button is really appealing. This can be seen in many other retail sectors, with new trainer or fashion drops and tech launches particularly prevalent.

Also backing up with a strong online and social media presence

But of course, we are living in a digital age, so those music retailers that continue to thrive generally all have a strong online offering, which was never more important than during the Covid lockdowns, when amazingly buying records wasn’t classed as an “essential purchase” (even if it may seem like it to many of us!). This meant that ecommerce stores were a lifeline for acts, retailers, and fans alike.

And understanding your customer base perfectly

The need to be authentic in the music sector is paramount, plus to constantly surprise and delight your customers; whether that’s with exclusive releases, exciting events, or just a really strong Sale promotion (some traditional retail tactics will always be effective). 

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