Interview and Competition: Last Shop Standing
We talk to Graham Jones about the survival of record stores, and below you can win yourself a copy of the DVD and a load of goodies!
Meeting at a basement pub in London Bride, Graham Jones welcomes me with a massive smile and decent ale. This was always going to go well. He's been one of the heads of Proper Distribution since its inception in 2000, three times 'Best UK Distributor' award winner due to its keen ability to get world, alternative and folk out to a wide audience.
Jones sports a thick Liverpudlian accent and speaks with real passion about his subject. His book, 'Last Shop Standing', has just been turned into a film after having funds raised via Pledge Music. You can win a copy of the DVD with a goody bag of record store goodies below, but here's a few words from the man himself.
It was intended to be a Q&A session, but I only managed to fit four questions in in thirty minutes, so here's Graham's words uninterupted...
“When I started, most record companies would have a rep for the South, the East, the North and the West but my area was always Great Britain, and as the film says when I started there were over two thousand record shops and by 2009 there was only 269 so you think: where did they go?
The book came about by talking to one of my aunties who's in her 80s. And she said: “Hows the record shop business?” And I Said “It's crap!" All these people I had sold to for years, who I considered friends, were losing their homes and their businesses, and she said, “Oh are you going the way of the candle stick makers?” And I thought crikey, imagine if the last record shop ever closes and future generations don't know about it.
By the time I finished it I realised there were a lot of people, like me, who feel that record stores should survive, should be part of the way we buy music. I'd never, ever say you should only buy your music from a record shop, but I always feel they've been unfairly treated by the industry.
The Jersey Island VAT dodge was the biggest, silent killer of record shops, because no one in the public seemed to know about it. And you couldn't expect a record shop to try and explain this; in simple terms, anything that was shipped from the channel islands and was under £18 was VAT free, so of course all CDs were under £18, and at first Play.com set up, and instead of getting Play shut down, Amazon, Tesco and HMV.com all joined the party.
You only had to employ a team of eight islanders, so small record shops couldn't set up their own businesses over there, and in a way it was a legal tax dodge, for years these companies never paid VAT. And the indie record shop was happy to pay VAT, which adds 20% onto the price, so everyone goes around like “play.com and amazon, so cheap!” and it's like yeah but they're not paying. They actually closed that system down in April, so in a way that gives me a bit of hope that the record shops now have a bit of a level playing field. And I think the record companies now do grasp that record shops do have a place in the way we buy music, they're all getting much better deals now. And the labels realise that the supermarkets have done them damage, and without HMV and without record shops they'll be at the mercy of Amazon.
We try and do as the name says, we try and do things that have longevity. If you're a good singer songwriter we'd like to think that we'd support you, we're the biggest independent distributor, but we can't throw £25,000 at a tv ad campaign. I think a lot of people made the mistake of thinking 'Ah wow, Amazon is the future, how much discount do they want?'. And the tail wags the dog now. Rates, VAT issues and supermarkets; those are the reasons we don't have as many record shops anymore.
Local record stores support new bands, they support local acts. And that's important, it gives you a bit of diversity. And it should be noted that when a record store closes, 50% of the music is lost from that town, because half the purchases from the record shop are impulse buys. And I do it myself I go into a record shop and I come out with something I never intended to buy in the first place.
Seeing this as a leveling out is wrong, because 90% of them have closed, but yeah what it's done is get rid of the sort of shops in High Fidelity. The type where you could be snobby to your customer. These days, you've really got to treat your customer. Any shops which relied on chart product have gone, these days unless you diverse you have no chance. If you were relying on the record companies, you were doomed.
There's a respect among the record stores that are left, ten or fifteen years ago everyone was rivals, but now there's a community spirit between them all because they realise they are the survivors. And they've survived because they have been doing something right.
There's a new record shop open in Southsea, I love it, it's called Pie and Vinyl, you go in there, and you get a pie while you listen to your vinyl!
For me, I still think that it's great to recommend something to a new fan, or a store. And theres so much brilliant music out there, you want people to realise there's more to life than the X Factor and there's more to life than the chart, go out there and experiment.
When I think about it it takes four years for a band to write an album, three months to record. That gives me a responsibility, especially if it's a lovely piece of work, to do my best to tell people about it.
There's an incredible amount of good new music coming out, but there isn't the buzz about it, especially with the younger generation there's not that excitement about it. But music always goes through those periods, I think the last real buzz was britpop, so it'd be nice to think that that will happen again one time. So there does seem to be a bit of a lull at the moment. But maybe that's an age thing."
Not only have we got a copy of the DVD to give away, but we also have a load of T-Shirts and Tote bags from:
Spillers Records, Cardiff
Rough Trade West, London
To win a copy, just answer the following question:
What is the name of the distribution company Graham Jones is part of?
Answers into us by September 21 with your full name and address to email@example.com with the subject line LAST SHOP STANDING.
To find a record store near you selling a copy of the DVD head to this map: Google Maps.
Many thanks to Too Pure Singles Club for assitance. Check them out here www.toopure.com