Indie record shops boom in number – but supermarkets are deserting music | Music

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New data shows that the UK has dozens more record shops that it did 10 years ago, but the marketplace for physical music elsewhere is quickly collapsing.

A study by the Digital Entertainment and Retail Association (ERA) finds that there are now 461 indie record shops in the UK, 122 more than 2014. Purely in terms of store numbers, the sector has recovered strongly after a small dip during 2020 that is likely attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The much-heralded vinyl revival – and its controversial premium pricing – drove revenue for vinyl to more than £170m last year, the 16th straight year for growth in the format. Of that revenue £110m came from archive releases rather than new music.

ERA chief executive Kim Bayley celebrated the shops’ success, saying: “Despite largely being run by owner-managers, indies have seen off competition from some of the largest and best-funded companies in the land. Indies have found their niche and they are here to stay. It shows that, despite the overwhelming success of music streaming, many music fans remain committed to the high street physical music buying experience.”

In 2014, indie shops made up just 3% of total music outlets in the UK, but it’s now 23% – a reflection of their growth in numbers, but also more significantly the drop in the number of supermarkets and other big stores selling music. The overall number of stores selling music peaked in 2016 at 15,364 – in 2023, that figure has dropped dramatically to 1,975.

This is because, while there is a small but devoted audience willing to spend money on vinyl records, most of the UK is content to no longer own the music it plays. The ERA study shows that in 2014, 17% of music revenue was spent on access to music via streaming, with the rest spent on outright ownership via physical formats or downloads. In 2023, 84% of revenue is now spent on access to music, as streaming has matured to become by far the most popular choice for music consumption today.

In 2023, for the first time the smartphone became the most popular device for listening to music, overtaking the car stereo.

Of the three sectors ERA monitored – music, video and games – music remains the smallest in terms of revenue. Video, powered by the rise of on-demand streaming at home in the wake of a collapsing DVD market, rose above video games for the first time in ten years. Only 8% of people choose to own video purchases rather than access them, and the number of video retailers has also dropped significantly from 10,500 in 2014 to 2,078 in 2023.

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