The Dark Side of the Vinyl Revival

As well as being a bit of a music junkie, I’m something of a vinyl junkie too – have been since my mid-teens. I find myself enjoying the music more if I invest time and care into it; digital downloads and streaming feels cheap to me, and even the mighty CD can sometimes feel a bit too convenient. Vinyl, to me, represents a more authentic way of approaching music, and its limitations make the music sound softer on the ear compared to the full-on assault you find with some CDs. I’m not going to get into a whole “Vinyl vs. Digital” debate – I just experience more emotional connections to vinyl records than I do to other formats.

Sales of vinyl records have been on the up in the past decade, and it’s great that more people – particularly young people – are seeing its qualities for themselves. There is, unfortunately, a dark side to this revival.

On Friday, my wife received an e-mail promoting HMV’s “vinyl week”, stating that they’d be selling some exclusive, limited edition records in-store the following day. They wouldn’t be made available on-line, they were strictly one per customer, and you couldn’t phone and make reservations – it was strictly first-come-first-served. Two of them were by Steven Wilson‘s former band: Porcupine Tree. I’ve been listening to them a lot recently whilst waiting patiently for Wilson’s forthcoming fifth solo album. Their first and second albums were being re-issued on blue and purple vinyl respectively, with no more than 1,000 copies pressed of each. On Saturday morning, I ventured to my local HMV store, half an hour before opening time, and waited outside. Fortunately, none of the people in the queue in-front of me were avid Steve Wilson/Porcupine Tree fans so, with a little push-and-shove, I was able to grab the two LPs, pay and leave within 3 minutes. I was back home by 10am.

Out of curiosity, I had a look for the two LPs on eBay when I got home. Within an hour of HMV stores opening, copies of each album were put on sale at double or triple the retail price. Some that emerged later were business sellers who had scored two or three copies of them – no doubt accompanied by a friend in order to get around the one-per-customer restriction. This practice is perfectly legal – once you’ve purchased something, you are legally entitled to resell it – but what annoys me about it is how it exploits the fans who wanted the albums but weren’t so lucky. I especially feel sorry for those who, like me, were waiting in the queue outside their local HMV, only to leave disappointed; pipped-to-the-post by someone with no other interest than a quick profit.

The same is true for Record Store Day – I love the spirit of the event and how the exclusive releases draw people towards their local record stores, but the exploitation and profiteering from certain individuals ruins it. If anything, this practice is even more abhorrent on Record Store Day, given that the queues form a lot earlier and grow to some considerable length. I’ve only ever bought one Record Store Day exclusive, a recording of three Steve Reich pieces performed by the LSO Percussion Ensemble, but that wouldn’t have been as high on a tout’s hit-list as, say, something by David Bowie or Prince.

My two LPs have both been opened, cleaned, played and enjoyed. I know that I’ve knocked a fair bit off their future value by removing the shrink-wrap, but I don’t see them as an investment: the music contained within them is worth far more to me.

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