By Dave Sarkies
Just in time for Vinylthon 2019, College Radio Day caught up with Graham Jones, author of The Vinyl Revival: The Shops that Made it Happen and Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened to Record Shops, both of which have been made into documentaries.
Graham is every bit as excited about Vinylthon and Record Store Day as we are. And why not? Not only does Graham love vinyl, he’s partially responsible for the vinyl revival of the last decade. After writing Last Shop Standing at a time when record stores seemed destined to become a thing of the past, he’s witnessed the complete turnaround in the popularity of records and record stores – something he takes a great deal of pride in.
“The number of stores who tell me, ‘I opened a record shop because I read Last Shop Standing’ – I feel so honored,” Graham says. But, he cautions, “I also feel an immense amount of pressure, because I would so hate that record shop to close after they’ve been inspired by something I’ve written. But I’m delighted for the shops more than anything and delighted for music fans.”
Graham, who had worked in the music industry for years and longed for the days of the record store, was inspired to write Last Shop Standing in 2008, when vinyl accounted for less than one percent of all physical album sales. “It seemed like a dead format,” he admits. And vinyl fans at the time feared the days of the record store were numbered.
“I’d been traveling around since the mid-‘80s selling to record shops and I was watching shop after shop close,” Graham explains. “I interviewed about 50 that I thought would be the last shops standing to see how they were surviving when nearly 2,000 others had closed. I did it to document record shops because I thought they wouldn’t be here in 20 years, but instead of an obituary, the book became a celebration of record shops.”
Last Shop Standing brought a lot of publicity to the shops featured; most got a newspaper article or radio or TV interviews. “It was just lucky,” Graham says. “I just managed to write about a subject that clicked with people. I think people thought, ‘Yeah, we remember when we used to have a record shop in our town. Whatever happened to that?’”
He wasn’t expecting the book to be a big seller though, and he certainly didn’t expect to be writing a follow-up about a revival in vinyl sales years later. “When I wrote it, I thought, ‘Well I’ve written about 50 record shops. If they all take 10 copies of it, I might not lose any money on it.’ I didn’t ever see it as a sort of profit thing. I saw it as just something to bring a bit of publicity, but it just kept selling.”
After six updates, Graham was able to answer the question in the second part of the book’s title – Whatever Happened to Record Shops. “Well, they’re back with a boom. So that’s how I decided it was time to write a whole new book.”
Graham says there were a lot of music fans who wanted to keep vinyl going. But format loyalty alone doesn’t fully explain the rebirth of vinyl over the last decade. So, what else caused the comeback?
“The point I make in the book is that record shops saved vinyl and vinyl saved the record shops,” he notes. “CDs were everywhere – they were in supermarkets and chain stores – but vinyl was the one thing the record shops had for themselves. If you wanted to buy vinyl, you had to go to a record shop.” And it was the record shops, Graham adds, that cajoled record companies to keep the format going. “They put pressure on them all the time to keep things coming out.”
Obviously, Record Store Day played a big part too. “It’s right to say that Record Store Day was the catalyst for the Vinyl Revival,” Graham points out. “It’s no coincidence that vinyl sales have risen every year since Record Store Day started.”
One of the surprising trends with the renewed popularity of vinyl is how the medium has appealed to millennials. “When the vinyl revival started, I really thought it was men in their 40s and above who were re-buying their vinyl collection that they had changed over to CD,” he says. “But suddenly, we saw the young bands putting product out on vinyl. It’s the growth in the young side of the market that’s been quite exciting.” But he says it’s worth noting that the vinyl revival has touched all generations. “My son, he buys vinyl, and my dad, who’s in his eighties, he buys vinyl. So, it touches all generations.”
Graham says another interesting trend is that while the know-it-all music snob behind the counter that some record shops became known for in the past – like in High Fidelity – is still there, he’s now a lot more modest and treats customers with respect, because record shops have a lot of competition. “The record shops that survived are the ones that looked after their customers,” he remarks. “They established a sense of community. For anyone who’s interested in music, it’s a meeting place.”
So, is the vinyl revival sustainable? Graham shared his thoughts on vinyl’s future. “Vinyl is incredibly fashionable, but I have no doubt it will fall out of fashion. I think there’s a strong base of people who are enjoying it and Record Store Day is established, and it’s fantastic, all these record shops opening. But,” he adds, “I’m slightly scared the industry’s beginning to abandon them because some record companies are selling direct to consumer. I think it’s a dangerous game to cut record shops out of the equation.”
The Vinyl Revival: The Shops that Made it Happen – the book – is available now and the documentary hits stores on Record Store Day. Featuring interviews with Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Phil Selway of Radiohead, and members of Portishead, Graham says it’s all about the rise of vinyl and why it’s taken off. “It’s a love letter to the format, really,” he notes. The film comes free with the purchase of a special edition record, also titled The Vinyl Revival, though Graham is hopeful for some screenings as well.
Graham sums up his excitement; “Record shops give music fans so much pleasure. They introduce us to so much new music. I love record shops and this whole experience has been incredibly joyful.”
We’re right with you Graham! Just like record shops, college radio is all about music discovery, so coinciding with Record Store Day again is the College Radio Foundation’s Vinylthon. This year, Vinylthon boasts 142 participating stations in 10 countries, enhancing the excitement of Record Store Day and building community among vinyl aficionados by spinning vinyl throughout the day. Tune in between visits to your favorite record shops! Get the full list of participating radio stations here.