Tables Turning: Sainsbury's New Record Label | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Tables Turning: Sainsbury’s New Record Label

Redbrick's Rhiannon Storer weighs up the pros and cons of Sainsbury's launching their own record label

Shopping List: Coffee, Eggs, Milk, Cheese, The Rolling Stones - Greatest Hits, Bread. Yes, you read that right. While do your weekly shop you can now purchase vinyl records to accompany your ready meal for two. Sainsbury’s has announced that it will launch its own record label (called Own Label - eat your heart out Smart Price) to ‘ride the wave of the vinyl revival’. We might not see My Morning Jacket nestling in with the tins or Luther Vandross by the confectionary, but we will be seeing a highly curated list of vinyls for customers - Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours remains a predictable best-seller. 

Yes, you read that right. While do your weekly shop you can now purchase vinyl records to accompany your ready meal for two

It comes as no surprise really. Sainsbury’s began stocking vinyl in March 2016 for the first time since the 1980s. It claims to account for almost 70% of the total grocery vinyl market, with 120,000 unit sales. The UK is experiencing a vinyl resurgence - in the same year, more than 3.2 million records were sold country-wide - but only accounting for 2% of all music sales.

Twenty years ago, you could only access vinyl in specialist shops. A safe haven for the bearded, flannel wearing, middle-aged man who bought vinyls to compensate for his lack of social skills. Thankfully, that is slowly changing for the better - a U.S study showed that their vinyl market is now dominated by buyers under the age of 25. Yet in Britain, most vinyl records sold in the U.K were bought by people between the ages of 45 and 54. 

A U.S study showed that their vinyl market is now dominated by buyers under the age of 25, a drastically different age group to the 45-54 range dominating the UK market

Most people would assume that Sainsbury’s entrance into the music business is due to our 21st century obsession with nostalgia. We pine for a simpler time. The good old days. Why listen to music through clinical white earbuds when you can create a feeling of warmth in your room? Seeing artwork printed on a huge 12", reading through an artist’s history, and dissecting lyrics all in one cover is pretty cool too. More importantly, it’s the search for authenticity in a world that appears to be killing itself by burning to death or imploding from a post-truth overload. We look to vinyl to be sentimental for a little while. For a past that, for us millennials, is incomprehensible. 

So this ‘democratisation’ of vinyl records - from the shabby elitist record shop back to the supermarket - might be seen as a good thing for the average music connoisseurs. If you fancied paying £20 for a double album of your favourite dad-rock band, then why not? But for real music lovers? That’s the issue. On the one hand, stocking vinyls in more supermarkets encourages vinyl-pressing plants to stay afloat. On the other hand, there are only a few vinyl-pressing plants left in the UK, and they are struggling to meet demands. Events such as Record Store Day are a big boost to the industry, but extra orders from supermarkets could delay small independent labels. With less disposable income, record stores might not be able to afford to buy records by smaller labels in bulk. This could result in record labels having to wait for their albums or EPs to be pressed - this can delay releases by weeks or even months. 

Sainsbury's monopoly on the few vinyl-pressing plants could result in small labels having to wait for their albums or EPs to be pressed, delaying releases by weeks or even months

And what kind of records will supermarkets be purchasing? Sainsbury’s opportunistic move into the vinyl world might just choke the industry with its monopoly on vinyl purchasing. It will help the major record labels who can press in bulk, but not the small record labels. Instead, it will just be a barrage of re-issue after re-issue. While I’m a fan of a classic album (who doesn’t love a bit of The Rolling Stones), do we really need another re-issue? For Sainsbury, these re-issues are obviously being stocked with their target audience in mind - the 45 - 54 bracket, who will be looking to indulgence their teenage fantasy. 

Even then, we might want to consider how the market demand for vinyls will play out. Current market demand for vinyl far outstrips the capacity to produce them. Since digital recording and the advent of CDs, the entire industry has shifted focus away from producing records for vinyls. The expertise and equipment that went into making those great sounding records of the 70s just isn’t around anymore. This has resulted in some pretty bad records being pressed. The craze of vinyl has even made some re-issues a scratchy, hardly glorified record straight from a CD mix. 

I think Sainsbury's has misunderstood the vinyl rebirth. Their label sounds like a retro gimmick for an antiquated format

As a side note, I’m also a bit mystified by the choice of songs selected for Sainsbury’s ‘Own Label’. Bringing in Bob Stanley from the band Saint Etienne to curate what is deemed ‘cool’ for vinyl is off centre. The Monkees, Arlo Guthrie, and Fleetwood Mac all on ‘A Taste Of The West Coast’? It sounds like a retro gimmick for an antiquated format. Personally, I think Sainsbury’s has misunderstood the vinyl rebirth. I’m not against the idea of bringing vinyl back. Hanging out with your friends to a groovy record and swapping covers is my ideal Friday night, but it’s obvious you can buy much cheaper original copies of vinyls from record stores. Just go to The Diskery in the city centre.

final year political science student


11th November 2017 at 12:30 pm