Yes, Record Stores Have A Future. Just Ask Rough Trade

As sad as HMV’s decline is, it was inevitable. The store completely failed to move with the times. Let’s hope Hilco‘s lifeline will lead to a smaller, invigorated company (and cleaner carpets). But what do music-lovers even want from a record shop in 2013? We can all look back misty-eyed and remember the times we worked in Our Price and spent hours digging through CDs in Tower Records but, let’s be honest, the model of the corporate monolith is past its sell by date. Without a personality, expert assistants who’ll suggest something you’ve never heard before, or simply an attractive environment to hang out in, stores will lose customers to Amazon.


At this point, you might be thinking “physical’s dead anyway”. Not true. As Eamonn Forde points out, iTunes sales in 2011 accounted for 17.9 percent and HMV, 19.1. There’s still a thirst for physical over digital. Further proof that record shops aren’t dying? Today it emerged that Rough Trade could open new outlets across the UK, a week after Stephen Godfroy, co-owner of Rough Trade, told the Guardian sales in the latest quarter were up 8 per cent on the previous year. The company are currently opening their first US store in Williamsburg.

What are Rough Trade and other thriving independents in Britain doing right? For me, it’s all about the personality of a shop. Combine assistants who love music with excellent instore sessions, an active social media presence, an area to eat cake and read a magazine, books, and you’ve got shopping as an event. Spencer Hickman, manager of Rough Trade East for six years and co-coordinator of Record Store Day, gave me some insight into the future of record shops.

Is it true Rough Trade may open more shops in the UK?

Spencer Hickman: I’d say they’re definitely looking for other stores. It’s inevitable. They’ve got to. They’ve proven that the model will work. When we opened Rough Trade East people said we were crazy. Now it’s arguably one of the most famous record shops.

Why’s Rough Trade in particularly rude health?

Look at what they do: live performances, work shops, book readings – we had Harry Hill recently, and Esben And The Witch last night. There’s so much to look at in Rough Trade; it’s an exciting place.

What’s the future for record shops?

Consumers want that experience. I want to go somewhere where I can buy high-quality records in a stimulating environment, not a dowdy, grey place with bad lighting. HMV have got to look at the model of Rough Trade East.

Have you seen a change in consumer habits in the last few years?

Definitely a move to vinyl. Normal people and passionate fans are going back to it. When the Django Django record came out, we sold out 500 in one day. Vinyl labels are really making the effort to realise good quality, decent products. There’s a hunger for vinyl that isn’t going anywhere.

Will HMV buyers come to Rough Trade?

HMV’s not going to leave the high street. They’ll come back in a smaller capacity. If it did go, it would be really damaging for music because people wouldn’t be exposed as much. Young kids in Peterborough or places without independent record stores are going ‘where the fuck are we going to go now?’

What do you think about the future of record shops? Do you bother with them? If you have a favourite, what do you like about it? What would your perfect record store look like? Let me know.