Rough trade4
Photo: Libertinus (Wikipedia); Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

A good old record shop, thriving, thanks to people unlike me

To a greater or lesser extent, we are all a walking contradiction. Accepting this reality is the first step in the attempt to be more coherent in our lives…

When I look at myself in the mirror, I know that if and when record shops disappear from the face of the Earth, I will be one of the guilty names to be blamed. While in the 90’s all the cash I could save was immediately allocated to the purchase of music discs, now I can hardly remember the last time I bought one. Since the advent of the mp3, the whole thing has changed and I took the easy path. Slowly, the pleasure of acquiring a physical disc that would play music faded away, opening way to a new concept, more fluid and that takes up no space.

Whenever I travel, one of my hobbies is to visit record shops. I do the research and visit the best ones in each city. I explore the entire shop and take my time. But I am a cheater – and a heavy one: I don’t buy any disc. “Digging in” is to me like a fancy sport which I like to watch only. When it comes to discs, I do appreciate the way it looks, the smell and colours of the covers, the story behind the shop and, above all, the talk with shopkeepers, especially those who recommend you an obscure afro-rock band from the 70’s which released only one album. But then I leave. And when I leave, I go home and download the very album. And even if sometimes I pay for this download, in the end I know that I am sponsoring the death of the record shops – if everybody did like me, how long would they last?

Good news is that there are some brave heroes who swim against the tide and have rescued the record shops from the ruins. Thanks to the resurgence of the vinyl, which started in 2007, sales have been booming ever since.  Experts say that vinyl sales are still increasing and will probably continue to grow over the next few years.  According to data collected by Nielsen, a company that monitors radio airplay, online streaming, music consumer behaviour and tracks what music people are buying both in-store and digitally, there are a few reasons for the continued growth of vinyl:

(1) First, it’s a growing trend to own old records. 60% of all LP sales are catalog (18 months or older), and the top records sold are from artists like Bob Marley & The Wailers, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd.

(2) Not to mention, millennials, who are 60% more likely to buy LP records than the general population according to the same dataset. It’s the younger demographic that are heavily investing in vinyl records to build their collections.

(3) And then there’s Rock. Of all LPs sold last year, 68% of them were of the Rock genre. By stark contrast, genres like EDM and Country are barely a blip on vinyl sales charts.

Relying on such figures, I could have a little rest if it weren't for the next painful incoherence of my being: bookshops. I can’t deny that their eventual bankruptcy will be my fault as well.  Let’s analyze: bookshops are heaven to me. Hours and hours, books after books. Paris, London, Sao Paulo, Brussels, 2nd hand bookshops, big ones, small ones, the ones tucked away in a hidden alley, the ones in main avenues, it doesn’t matter, I love them all. But do I buy these books? Or do I buy any book? Well, eight of ten times, if the same title is available on Kindle, I prefer the anti-climax electronic format. The other two times, I purchase the physical book, but on Amazon.com…

Regarding Kindle – and in my defense - I travel a lot and in the last six years I moved more than 20 times around five countries. I acknowledge that having a proper book in hands feels much better, but having 1000 books at your disposal for 200g has conquered me. On the other hand, regarding buying stuff on Amazon.com, well this one is purely based on extremely lower prices. But if a cool, independent bookshop in town eventually shuts down, you can be sure: I will be one of the saddest ones, lamenting another victim of globalization. It is true that, apparently, the majority is not following me. Figures show that Kindle is not thriving as originally predicted. In May 2016, it was reported that Ebook sales had fallen by 1.6% to £554m in 2015, the first drop recorded in the seven years industry, while sales of printed books grew by 0.4% to £2.76bn. A harsher analysis had been done by James Daunt, the managing director of Waterstones, who said in 2015 that the Kindle “has disappeared to all intents and purposes”.  

Photo: Matthew L Stevens  Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

El Ateneo, in Buenos Aires. One of my favourite bookshops in the whole world. And yet, I didn't spend a penny there.

In any case, I cannot rely on the market trends to alleviate my incoherence. Good thing that I do have strong principles when it comes to other stuff, like coffee. I do support small coffee shops and strongly boycott any chain that sells them, especially Starbucks. Why? First of all, because if we all appreciate small, cute, family-run cafés, we should go for them. Secondly, because I find repulsive the concept of bringing a watery American coffee to all corners of the world - as if the world didn’t know how to drink coffee - as a messianic deed. I saw once an interview with Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schultz, in which he was explaining the pseudo-benevolent raison d’être of his company. According to him, people like to know how their coffee will taste like no matter if they are in Malaysia, Argentina or France. Not content, he added that people like to drink the best coffee ever, always. Coffee-imperialism solved this existential dilemma with a simple plan: to conquer the world and put a Starbucks in each bloc, in every city, in all countries.

Another case which I am proud to be coherent - it is still a very new thing to me, I could maybe use a commemorative plaque saying “coherent since 2016” – is regarding the clothing industry. As the anti-fashion person I am, until recently I would buy clothes only when needed, but in places such as H&M. Although I had hints of the dirty business behind the ultra-cheap clothing industry, it was not before I watched the excellent documentary, The True Cost, that I decided to boycott any piece of cloth made in Bangladesh, Cambodia or any other country whose labour laws simply do not exist. I cannot dedicate my life to defend human rights while at the same time using my money to sponsor the violation of these very rights in a different country. 

Photo: Rijans  Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

The Rana Plaza collapse occurred on 24 April 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when an eight-story commercial building collapsed killing more than 1000 people who worked for the clothing industry. 

I am fully aware that, following this reasoning, soon I will have to boycott so many things that it will be hard to live. Starting from China, one of the worst violators of human rights and enemy number one of climate, but the main engine rolling the world’s economy. Indeed, living in this world today makes it very hard to be 100% coherent. Even vegans have to deal with the fact that soy farms in Brazil thrive at the expenses of indigenous peoples’ land. But the path is worth pursuing. From small things, such as buying stuff at record and bookshops in my case, to major things, such as boycotting those who make this world a worse place, everybody is a potential activist, all we need is a bit of coherence and determination.



Fernando Burgés is from Brazil. He holds a BA in International Relations, a Postgrad Certificate in Nationalism Studies and a Master in Political Science. He currently lives in Brussels.


Teaser photo: Martin Hots (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

NEXT ISSUE 01.04.2018