Don’t stop the music

Don’t stop the music

Mark Edmundson argues that the demise of independent Scottish music retailer Fopp won’t have a detrimental impact on the wider industry


Scottish music store group Fopp closed its doors - for what is likely to be the last time - on Thursday 28 June, a sad end for a venerable organisation which began life in 1981 as a one-man CD stall in Glasgow’s West End. The company later skillfully balanced economies of scale to bring super-cheap CDs to a small chain of stores in Glasgow and Edinburgh, eventually branching out across the UK.

While it took three years for founder and chairman Gordon Montgomery to open his first shop, the company boasted some 50 outlets by the end of 2006, having built up a reputation as a credible alternative to the big high street stores and the place to pick up bargain classics and obscurities, DVDs and books.

But it was the acquisition of failed retailer Music Zone’s 67 stores in February of this year that pushed Fopp - by now the UK’s largest independent music retailer - into a cash-flow crisis. The receivers were called in after a last-ditch deal with Virgin fell through and the staff were sent home with a month’s salary left unpaid.

Understandably, Scotland’s music lovers have felt a keen sense of loss for the retailer that pioneered a trusting ‘suck it and see’ 28-day return policy and successfully maintained an image of homegrown cool. Some commentators have viewed the demise of Fopp as a portent of doom for the wider independent retail industry. So is this pessimism justified?

According to Andrew Tully, manager of fellow independent and Cockburn Street neighbour, Avalanche, Fopp was seen very differently in the rest of the UK. ‘In England it had a less hip or cosy profile,’ he says. ‘It was seen as a predatory, commercial, capitalist retailer that would come into towns and drive other indies out of business.’

Tully believes that it was this rapid expansion, while moving into direct competition with an already struggling mainstream market, that sounded the company’s death knell. ‘They seemed to have hugely vaulting ambitions at a time when everybody else is just trying to get by. They wanted to take on the world.’

Indeed, it is this reckless shift in corporate philosophy, rather than the rise in music downloads and competition from supermarkets, that could more justifiably be blamed for the company’s difficulties. The suggestion that Fopp’s demise was self-generated does offer a glimmer of hope for independent record stores, that while the internet and supermarkets are catering for mainstream tastes, indies can continue to find a market at niche level.

‘There is still a desire to own albums on CD and vinyl from many generations of music lovers and this is fulfilled by indie record shops,’ says Tully. ‘It may sound high-minded, but indie shops can be an important resource for local communities, selling local bands’ stuff and stocking fanzines. Above all, indies are important as a place where people can get hold of music they can’t get on the high street.’

For many it will be for this that Fopp is remembered.

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