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"Voracious" Inverness music buyers

The following article appeared in The Guardian 30.11.09

It may have been a terrible year for record shops, with
Zavvi and Woolworths disappearing from the high street. But the latest research offers glimmers of hope for anyone brave enough to venture into music retailing.

In an attempt to show the areas of Britain where music sells best and where there may be room for new record shops, the Entertainment Retailers Association has created a map of album sales by postcode.

Inverness, Cambridge and London have the most voracious music-buyers in the UK, while the Outer Hebrides, Wigan and Wolverhampton suffer from some of the weakest album sales per head.

The research into physical album sales, which was based on official charts data covering millions of transactions, shows a huge disparity between the best – and worst-performing – areas, which ERA said indicated opportunities to open stores in towns that are under-served.

The trade group believes the more record shops music fans have nearby, the more they buy. Kim Bayley, ERA director general, said: "It's a simple but vital point in a year when we've seen the closure of Woolies and Zavvi, and literally hundreds of music outlets: put music in front of people and they will buy it.

"These figures indicate that there may well be a number of areas where there is still scope to open new record stores. Proximity and convenience are clearly not the only factors when it comes to persuading people to buy music, but this study certainly indicates that if you make it difficult to buy music, then people will buy less."

Ravaged by piracy and a move to online streaming and downloads, physical music sales have been falling for years. The album market declined 12.4% in the first three quarters of 2009.

ERA's research puts the story of boarded-up record shops around Britain in stark numbers: a third of UK music stores have closed in the past five years.

But there are pockets of strong sales. The "average number of albums per capita" figures show that outside central London the best performing postcode was Inverness. In the first three quarters of 2009 the 205,052 people living in the Inverness postcode area bought an average of 1.76 albums each, compared with an average of 1.14 albums across the UK. In Cambridge the rate, at 1.72, was also well above the national average.

Central London clearly benefits from tourism and out-of-town shoppers, giving the per capita figures of 16.88 in the "WC" postcode area. "EC" scores 9.71 and "W" 5.71.

By contrast, the 26,502 inhabitants of the remote Outer Hebrides averaged less than half an album each. Similarly, a relatively dispersed population put Llandrindod Wells in Powys among the worst performers, while Ilford and Harrow in the London suburbs appeared to suffer from people travelling into the city centre to shop.

Less easy to explain was the low score for Wigan, whose 297,000 citizens generated album sales of just 167,000 – 0.56 a head – or Wolverhampton at 0.63 albums a head.