Monday, February 25, 2008

The world of vinyl lives on

It may take up a minuscule part of the music market, but vinyl records saw a 15 percent spike in sales last year. Brendan Newnam visits a record-pressing plant in California and learns more about the business.

Brendan Newnam: Don MacInnis is an optimist. Who else would buy a record manufacturing plant in 1992 -- 10 years after the compact disc sparked a digital music revolution? A CD, after all:

Don MacInnis: Was cheaper to replicate, much cheaper to ship. The vinyl industry was dying.

Still, Macinnis couldn't resist buying the plant when his boss decided to retire. Now, business at Recordtech in Camarillo, Calif. is booming.

Machines melt down vinyl pellets and pour the hot liquid onto a waiting mold. Then the presses clamp shut, oozing vinyl out the sides, and finally a record slides onto a long spool.

Vinyl makes up a minuscule part of the music market, just 0.2 percent. But hundreds of thousands of people still buy records, and that number's growing. According to Nielsen Soundscan, new vinyl sales were up 15 percent last year.

So why the renewed interest? Well, you can't hear it on the radio, but record enthusiasts claim that vinyl offers a warmer, more nuanced sound. Think fresh-squeezed orange juice versus store bought.

Jason Moore, the chief vinyl buyer for Amoeba Records in Hollywood, cites another reason for the resurgence:

Jason Moore: It's always been more personal, so much more tangible than a CD. The size, the look, the gatefold, you get to watch it go around, you know what I mean. It's, what's the word, where . . . interactive.

People like displaying their records, and even flipping them over. Things you can't do as well with a CD or an MP3. Now, more and more people download MP3s for their iPods and then buy vinyl for their home collection. And these aren't just nostalgic boomers.

Jason Moore again:

Moore: Everybody's out there buying records these days. There's 15-year-old kids out on the floor with Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" and, you know, Led Zeppelin in their arm. You know, it's like, gives me hope in humanity.

For Don Macinnis, it means hope for his business.

MacInnis: I don't know how long 17 or 20 percent growth is going to last, but I have a 10-year-old son, he's much more into music than I am, and if he wanted to 15, 20 years from now be involved in this business, I think the business would be here.

In Camarillo, CA I'm Brendan Newnam for Marketplace.

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