Abstract: A Retail Revolution: Changes in Music Distribution and Retailing in the United Kingdom, 1950-1980

Kevin D. Tennent


The years between 1950 and 1980 were important years of change for the British music industry, as new forms of music and markets for it emerged, and a range of new players entered the industry. Distribution is one of Alfred D. Chandler Jr.'s three prongs considered important for corporate success. The paper shows that the four majors operating in the UK market already had an established distribution network by the mid-1960s, serving around 5,000 specialist retailers. As creative competition increased, the four existing majors defended their control over the market by further integrating into distribution. On the retailing side the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance in 1964 strengthened the position of retailers, threatening the majors' ability to control the value chain. This section of the paper will show that the majors retained control over the chain by encouraging the spread of music retailing away from specialist retailers. The majors could then provide support services to non-specialist retailers, retaining oligopolistic power over the downstream part of the industry. As a whole the paper shows that scale and scope economies remained important despite the entry of a large number of small players in the creative part of the industry.