Whether it’s due to its increasing popularity with a younger market, or the fact that it’s never fallen out of favour with older audiophiles; vinyl has been the quiet achiever doggedly surviving while the CDs vs digital downloads war rages on. In fact, the ‘little medium that could’ has been the saving grace of not only the album format in general, counted as part of the 61% that still makes up physical sales worldwide , but also of one of Australia’s long-standing retailers.
Independent music retailer Rocking Horse was a fixture of Brisbane’s culture since opening in 1975, but it looked like it was curtains for the record store late last year. With sales flagging and customers dwindling, it looked like the stallion had to be taken ‘out the back’.
Now, one year on however, The Age reports that the Horse is still rocking; and the music emporium has chalked up the vinyl rebirth as the main reason it’s still standing.
“There’s been a marked shift in buying habits of our customers,” says Rocking Horse owner, Warwick Vere. “A year ago if someone came up to the counter and said ‘I want a Pink Floyd album’ you would just immediately start looking for CDs for them. Now you have to ask them, and quite often they’ll say ‘Oh no, vinyl, of course’!”
The Brisbane record store proprietor calls it “a colossal shift” in buying habits, “and that’s been terrific for us” he continues. “Although the numbers aren’t anywhere near the numbers of CDs, the dollar value is almost now the same, so you know, we can do a lot better actually selling less.”
Vere estimates that wax now constitutes nearly 80% of their new imported stock and reorganised the store to prioritise vinyl’s popularity. “It’s been a godsend…Once kids realised the quality and the sound difference and start to enjoy the collectability of vinyl, it can only get stronger and stronger.”
Rocking Horse employed 24 staff members at its high point, but two year ago the general downward turn that was assailing music retailers began to take hold. The increase of digital sales, which outstripped physical sales for the first time in the UK earlier this year, along with the high Australian dollar killing off export sales meant bad news for music shops.
“I guess for Christmas in 2010 everybody got a giant hard drive or an iPod” recalls Vere of the dark days, “because the CDs, which had had a fairly ordinary Christmas, just didn’t budge at all for the next three months.”
Along with a “well deserved break” in rent from his landlord, Vere “had to start from scratch, and starting from scratch was very difficult in the climate that existed this time in 2011. Getting credit from suppliers was very, very difficult. We put on a brave face and battled on for the best part of 10 months.”
Vere comments that it looked like Rocking Horse was to be another victim in the expected extinction of brick-and-mortar shops. “Economic conditions had been dire, and there’s not a big margin in music. Ninety percent of people who are in it are in it for the love of it rather than to make themselves rich. That’s a very romantic idea of a record shop!”
Thankfully once re-organising their credit lines, and again thanks to the increasing popularity of vinyl, “things really started to take off for us,” says Vere. The store has since converted its basement, once a space for DJs and hip hop music, as an in-store performance space.
“If things can keep going the way they are, there’ll be very good reason for optimism,” Vere says. “I’ve got no reason to think that things will change, but I’m realistic enough to know that things can change. I’m just hoping they won’t.”
It’s a heartening turn for the music retailer, which is in stark contrast to Allan & Billy Hydes announcing dropping the bombshell last week that they’d be going into receivership, only two years after they merged to deal with the same financial struggles that Rocking Horse and other retailers were facing.
Worst of all, their dire economic situation meant that they would not honour vouchers or deposits; luckily (and honourably) East Melbourne store Pony Music said they would offer a 50% redemption to customers stung by the Allan & Billy Hydes receivership.
Seems all good musical horses get a silver lining…
In related vinyl news, Melbourne’s Polyester Records announced they’d be (re)launching their vinyl-only label imprint to release and promote local acts, in conjunction with fellow indie label Sensory Projects and distribution from the Sydney-based Inertia.