Editor’s comment: What can we learn from Alan?

PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 October 2018

Alan Dobrin at his shop Alan's Records, East Finchley, which is still going strong after 24 years. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

Alan Dobrin at his shop Alan's Records, East Finchley, which is still going strong after 24 years. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK


I’m delighted to see Alan’s Records (our Business of the Week) going strong after 24 years.

I spent a lot of time in East Finchley over the summer but always seemed to be on the way to or from somewhere else when I passed the shop on the bus. This weekend, I’ll be sure to pop in.

My childhood was spent in record shops. I can’t have been older than Alan’s eight-year-old customer when I started digging through dusty crates for the music that would go on to soundtrack my teenage years – the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Pink Floyd – and soon enough I was planning entire day trips around shops I’d found in the Yellow Pages, in towns that were just about accessible by train with the assistance (or resignation) of a long-suffering parent.

It seemed like a whole world had opened up to me but in truth those years – late ’90s, early 2000s – were vinyl’s nadir. Sales, despite my pocket money, were unsustainably low; shops were closing or downscaling to focus on easier, more reliable sources of income; industrial investment was minimal or non-existent, with manufacturers left to salvage parts for ailing record presses from decommissioned Eastern European plants.

Yet fast-forward 15 years and the picture is completely different. After a decade of growth, 2017 saw more (new) records sold in the UK than in any year since 1991.

I wonder what lessons, if any, the news business – another once mighty media industry that has been brought to its knees in the digital age – can learn from the resurgence in records’ popularity.

If anything, it might be that we’re wrong to assume people invariably value convenience and immediacy over quality, or that the market’s shift in that direction is entropic. It’s no secret newspapers don’t have the resources they once did – my job is to decide how best to deploy them so what we still do produce is high quality, and offers something you can’t get elsewhere.

No, records and news aren’t the same. But I feel sure that if our industry survives, it won’t be through a race to the bottom.

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