The other day one of my best friends and I were downtown with nothing to do, so we went to our local record store. It’s something that I’ve taken for granted lately, mostly due to the sub-par service and selection at this particular store, but nevertheless I walked in to browse and left with the new Braid record and The Blackest Beautiful by letlive., in exchange for a little over thirty bucks. As we left we began discussing vinyl in general, a discussion that couldn’t help but swerve into a piece of buzz-worthy news that I managed to keep running into across all corners of my little space of the Internet.
The headline may sound familiar to you as well: “Urban Outfitters Claims It’s Now The No. 1 Seller Of Vinyl In The World”.
At least that how Hugh McIntyre of Forbes chose to put it. It’s a sentence that seems to spark a lot of negative emotions, and yet I can’t pinpoint where mine are amidst the spectrum of public opinion. As we discussed the topic, both after we left that local record shop and during our weekly radio show the following day, a lot of great points came up that exchange blows with the mass media that is simply misreporting it.
The first point, plain and simple, is that it’s a great thing. While I despise the Urban Outfitters brand and everything the company has come to represent, being able to claim the title of “Best Seller of Records in the World” is nothing that vinyl connoisseurs such as I can complain about. The obvious negative response can include jabs at their selection, which is extremely disappointing in my opinion, or the culture that such an accomplishment can raise.
Let’s dive into that culture really quick. Urban Outfitters has a target demographic of 18-28, and yet personal experience shows that their true demographic is more along the lines of 13-21. Their stereotypical shopper is a suburbanite teen, presumably female more often than male, living in upper-middle class with enough money to afford much of the store’s hefty price tags several times over, or enough to warrant the purchase of vinyl there. Enough visits to any one of their stores can allow anyone to notice their vinyl and turntable selection, planting a seed that may eventually lead them to spend their money on something other than clothes. This, coupled with the obvious “hipster” image that the store casts out continuously, is a catalyst for those who are attempting to find their own image. And that’s where the store can shine; you can get clothes and accessories to adapt to a new image, then when you’re attached to it you can go all-in and jump on the “millennial hipster vinyl craze”. Or, to quote Mr. McIntyre again, “The fact that Urban Outfitters sells so much vinyl just goes to show that for many who are buying, it isn’t about utility, it’s about a lifestyle”.
With that last statement, my true opposition arises with how this minuscule story is being reported. The general belief I’ve heard across the board about this topic is that Urban Outfitters is providing a greater way to “be hipster”, instead of being a record collector. Sure, the worth and care of a record that can be bought in any one of the 178 Urban Outfitters locations across the United States may be less than someone who picked up collecting from a family member or takes the DIY approach with the help of the Internet. And my fear for the average buyer of records at Urban who doesn’t have the knowledge of caring for vinyl is that they’ll break their records, perhaps due to the types of turntables sold there. The aesthetically pleasing Crosley brand that the company carries in their stores has universal negative reviews, often called “record shredders” and the like across many DIY vinyl message boards. This leads to the potential for records to be scratched, in order to be inevitably replaced due to the class of the aforementioned stereotypical shopper.
However, like almost everything, Urban Outfitters is more of a trend than a store. It’s has the same appeal as Brokencyde, “screamo”, or any other potential staple to a post-millennial teenager because it acts as a bridge between pre and post-adolescence. Sure, there may be a few people who really love the store and stay on that bridge as long as they can, just as there are somehow still fans of Brokencyde and Blood On The Dance Floor that aren’t thirteen. The point here is that, as far as vinyl sales are concerned, those who are just now jumping on the “vinyl bandwagon”, which Urban Outfitters utilizes to provide a very small glimpse of with their selection, may be learning enough about the format to eventually extend their knowledge and understanding out of Urban Outfitters and into an actual record store. Thus they may be able to grow and become a part of the conversation that is based around the revival of this ‘dead format’, while becoming more conscious of their purchases and how they treat their belongings.
Ultimately, a vinyl collector at Urban Outfitters is an ideal target demographic for local record stores or any other method of record purchasing – such as Amazon, the actual largest seller of vinyl. And while some may hate the store chain and what they stand for, they are acting as a point of entry for future lovers of vinyl as well as contributing to the expansion of the format, something that those who dismiss the record resurgence need to support instead of labeling as a trend.