Record shop sector trends

Man in brown sweater holding record with woman in background looking for records

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the music retailing sector

The music retailing business in the UK has seen many changes over the past two decades or so, in particular:

  • the entry into the market of non-specialist retailers particularly the supermarket chains
  • the huge rise of ecommerce, including online giants like Amazon and the massive success of eBay
  • the rise of music downloading - first illegally through file sharing networks and then, increasingly, through legitimate paid-for services like iTunes - and streaming services like Spotify, Youtube and Apple Music
  • the huge influence of television programmes such as the X Factor and The Voice on the public's mainstream music buying habits

As a result of a sharp increase in competition from non-specialist retailers and ecommerce giants and the huge increase in demand for digital music, independent record shops have had a difficult time and the number of independent outlets fell quite dramatically. As a result of these seismic changes in music retailing, many independents were forced to change tack to be able to survive. Some now thrive by offering their customers an 'experience' involving café sales, books and live gigs alongside the sale of recorded music. Branching out into selling online through their own websites and through online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon has benefited many independents, particularly those that target niche markets.

The number of independent record shops was in long-term decline until 2014, when there were only around 300 according to British Phonographic Industry figures. The steps taken by record shops to meet the various challenges have been quite successful and from 2015 until 2017 the number of independents grew until in 2017 there were nearly 400.

The independent sector has also benefited hugely in recent years from a revival in interest in vinyl which has seen sales of vinyl albums increase hugely since the late 2000s. Independents sell nearly 50% of all vinyl albums, with the annual Record Store Day promotion now a very important generator of sales. (Record Store Day was launched in the late 2000s and has over 200 participating independent record shops. These benefit from the significant media attention that Record Store Day attracts, as well as from the large number of Record Store Day exclusive vinyl releases by artists and labels.) By 2017 sales of vinyl had increased by nearly 800%, reaching 4.1 million. Encouragingly for the sector, there was a 26.8% increase over 2016 in these sales.

Keep up to date with the music retailing sector

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. The music industry is represented by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) Ltd. The BPI produces an annual statistical handbook that contains a great deal of useful information on the sector and there is further helpful guidance on the BPI website.

The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) represents record shops in the UK and also produces a great deal of useful statistical information about the sector. Visit the ERA website for more information.

There are also a number of information and news websites available for the music industry, including the Music Industry News Network (Mi2N) and MusicTank.

Trade shows

You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show or exhibition for the music retailing sector. The Exhibitions UK website includes for details of upcoming events.

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