Last Monday, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) released its wholesale figures for 2013. It produced some surprising results, namely that digital music outsold all physical music releases for the first time ever and vinyl sales continue to soar.
This 77 per cent increase in vinyl sales would suggest that Melbourne’s iconic record stores are no longer patronised by a niche market and have seen an influx of new customers.
But is this actually what’s happening? Or are big chains cashing in on the vinyl bandwagon?
Paul Cook, owner and operator of Heartland Records, hasn’t noticed a great deal of change.
“I don’t know what they base all of those things on,” he says.
“How do they know how many records we sell? We sell a lot of records, but how do they know that. Where do they get those figures from? JB-Hi Fi?”
Despite questioning ARIA’s knack of unearthing figures, Cook did divulge that he had noticed an increase in sales from the previous year but insists that “we’ve always had vinyl, we’ve been ahead of everyone, and we never got rid of it”.
So why persist with vinyl, something that was touted to go out of fashion a long time ago?
The story of Heartland Records began about twenty years ago from a market stall, where Cook started selling a few records he had collected from a crate.
“I started doing it as a hobby, but I quite liked it so I carried on,” Cook explains.
From those beginnings Heartland Records has grown and now boasts its own slick shopfront on the corner of Victoria and Chetwynd Streets in North Melbourne, just down the road from the old stall.
Apart from attracting new customers and increased sales in vinyl, Cook laments that the recent resurgence does have a downside; the commercialisation of Record Store Day.
“We were laughing the other day because on Record Store Day, which is supposed to be about cooler indie records and record stores, but there was a One Direction record on the list,” Cook says with a grin.
“We’re not going to be stocking that one, because that’s not what it’s meant to be about.”
Heartland Records assistant Maria Makripoulias elaborated further on this point about Record Store Day, which started out as a tradition to celebrate vinyl and music.
“The whole point is to celebrate independent record stores who don’t necessarily get to the mainstream,” she says.
“But now it’s sort of become mainstream, which is kind of ironic. They release stuff for record store day and a week later it’s on the internet for double the price, because it’s limited.”
When asked what ignited her love of vinyls and Record Store Day, Maria says: “I personally like vinyl for not only the experience of sitting down and putting on a record, but it’s a bit more human than listening to an iPod. I also like the artwork and presentation; it plays a really big part for me.”
“Sometimes I really get excited of the things they have inside them like the posters or lyric sheets,” she says.
“Some bands put a lot of work into how it looks, and I really appreciate that.”
The ARIA wholesale reports showed that some of the biggest sellers in 2013 were Daft Punk, Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age, which Heartland Records agrees with, apart from a few exceptions.
“Some more obscure things sell a lot too, like Bon Iver, I don’t even think it’s that great but it sells and sells,” Cook says.
With such popular artists as the ones above leading the vinyl resurrection, does a record store owner see it sustaining the levels of success?.
“It’s hard to say. I think it’s going to level off again because it’s a fad. But we’ve always sold it and people have sold it long before we came along, so there is no reason why it won’t stay,” Cook insists.
“Vinyl has no alternative until they invent some machine where you can press your own record in your bedroom off an mp3.”
But the future remains bright for vinyl, due to “much younger people” coming into the store. His consumers are “no longer old people like me buying records” and with that, he laughs and disappears back into his mountains of stock.
Joel Hargreaves is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student studying at La Trobe University. Follow his Twitter feed: @joelphargreaves