By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff
Technology is changing the huge global market for record collectors. As music dealers like those immortalised in the book High Fidelity disappear, will vinyl and CD rarities survive the download revolution?
The collector's appetite for physical products such as CDs is insatiable
Second-hand record shops are becoming almost as rare a sighting in the UK as a first edition Beatles EP.
The days of shuffling into grubby backstreet stores in search of that obscure Pink Fairies seven-inch are on their way out as dealers succumb to the march of online auction sites and MP3s.
After more than two decades that witnessed a boom in collectables and memorabilia, buyers are increasingly turning to the web to track down that hard-to-find item.
U2's Trabant car: £6,000
Queen 12" single: £10,000
Withdrawn Nirvana CD: £500
Led Zeppelin seven-inch: £5,000
Kylie award disc: £1,500
Source: Esprit records
The switch has taken its toll on some specialist retailers and record dealers, prompting them to turn their attentions to sites such as eBay in search of profits without the overheads.
And as the appetite for downloads hits new album sales, some observers are predicting the death knell for the bigger bricks-and-mortar multiple record stores, too.
In the midst of these upheavals, is there any future for the physical product that has had shelves heaving since the heyday of the rock LP?
Absolutely, says Simon Wright, marketing and product buying manager for Esprit, one of the UK's largest specialist record dealers.
"Collectors are a certain breed who need to hold something in their hand," he said.
"There's an anoraky, trainspotter side to this: a lot of our customers want 20 different formats from 20 different countries, with slightly different sleeves."
Among collectors, CDs account for 60% of the market
The advent of downloading has led to a fall in record company promotional items - commonly known as promos.
These are limited, non-standard versions of forthcoming releases issued to radio stations and journalists, often housed in lavish packaging with extra items designed to heighten media interest.
Highly-prized by collectors, promos have traditionally found their way on to the open market where the rarest can change hands for hundreds of pounds.
Now they have been discontinued by some record companies amid fears that copied albums will end up in the hands of illegal file-sharers.
U2 recently warned that they may rush-release their new album digitally if music stolen from their studio appeared on the internet.
It would be unprecedented for such a high-profile band to act in this way because of piracy fears.
Esprit's Simon Wright said some record companies were now focusing once more on non-promotional collectables such as picture discs or limited vinyl singles to "create a buzz".
"Record companies used to be run by record lovers, providing some amazing packages," he said. "Now they're run by accountants."
He said despite reports of the death of LPs, the market for pre-CD, pre-MP3, scratchy old vinyl was thriving.
"Ten years ago CDs were 80% of our business, and now they're 60%," he said. "We do really well on vinyl and we make a big thing of it.
"People like that shelf of High Fidelity-syndrome vinyl, a rack of LPs with sleevenotes."
Rob Lythall, who runs the UK's VIP record fairs, agreed the internet had changed the nature of collecting.
But he said sites such as eBay were now reaching saturation point and failing to give a return to many traders.
"Four years ago eBay started impacting quite heavily on the collectors' market," said Mr Lythall. "But it's very apparent now to all dealers who switched that it's become a bargain basement. It's great for the consumer but not for the trader."
He predicted the demise of high street CD retailers, and said specialist dealers would combine internet trading with larger monthly record fairs.