Are online streaming services taking away from physical sales? 

By Niamh Rowley

With the success of Record Store Day having been and gone, it begs the question of just how popular physical copies are when they’re not all ‘shiny and new’? The last day saw 190,00 copies sold across the 260 stores involved. Some big sales, of course, but does this only come with the excitement of the day?  

With the aim of shining a light on independent record stores, the offer of limited edition vinyl meant sales were boosted drastically for the independent owner; crowds of collectors and enthusiasts compelled to queue for hours round corners just to stand a chance at getting something they love ultimately creates intense hype and demand. But does this engagement extend to a standard Saturday in the middle of the year for the stores?

With online streaming services coming in hot over recent years, big chain stores are not the only thing independents have to fear. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many had to look elsewhere for new music and naturally the online element took over massively. With no access to shops… streaming and downloading became the way to listen. 

According to the World Economic Forum streaming services account for 67% of the industry. A total of 589 million people had subscribed to paid services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music by the end of 2022.  

So just how important is it to have a physical copy of an album lying about the house rather than adding it to a virtual library you can take pretty much anywhere at any time?

In a poll conducted on Instagram, 28% of people admitted they preferred a virtual download for reasons such as it being portable and accessible, also commenting that it’s a good way to get a first impression and feel for an album before committing to a purchase which can often be expensive. 40% of people admitted they preferred a physical copy of an album or EP. This came down to reasons for it being aesthetically pleasing to look at, as well as it almost resembling a trophy or piece of memorabilia. On the other hand, 33% of respondents said both were equally likeable to them. The versatility of being able to enjoy their music in different scenarios like an afternoon walk in the park or while cooking at home was appealing to many. Some even commented music sounds different depending on whether you listen to it through a phone, CD or vinyl player… you may as well just get the collection!

Overall, it seems the excitement of having something physical to hold and present wins the hearts of the public more than an App, despite the ever-growing presence of the online world. For how long this will be the case is uncertain but given the popularity and hype, record stores will surely be thriving long into the future of high streets. 

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