Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fred Meyer discovers Vinyl by accident

Vinyl records and turntables make unlikely return to retail stores

Fred Meyer is the latest chain to stock the retro platters

What can you say about the latest product featured in the electronics departments of 60 Fred Meyer stores? Well, here's something: Spin the black circle!

The newest piece of merchandise getting display space isn't from the MP3 age but from music's 331/3 rpm past.

In a sign that vinyl just might be "staging a comeback," as this week's issue of Rolling Stone reports, Fred Meyer has started to stock new LPs and turntables.

Sure, plenty of Northwest indie shops have stayed true to what many hi-fi enthusiasts insist is the one true way to listen to music, selling used vinyl and systems in the shadows.

"We're living in a world where few commodities have a spiritual quality," said Eric Isaacson, owner of North Portland's Mississippi Records. "A lot of people see vinyl as more of an art piece than just simply background noise."

Deep. But now that a big-dog corporate supermarket-retail chain like Fred Meyer is stocking the left-for-dead LP, it appears that a resurrection might indeed be under way.

"There's a funny little story behind this," said Melinda Merrill, a company spokeswoman. "We got back into vinyl by accident."

Earlier this spring, someone in charge of ordering CDs for Fred Meyer intended to order a special edition compact disc and DVD set of R.E.M.'s new album "Accelerate." But the employee mistakenly clicked the "LP" option on the electronic order form.

Stacks of the R.E.M. vinyl showed up at the warehouse and were sent out to several stores without question.

"We didn't catch the mistake until the records started showing up in the stores," Merrill said.

Puzzled by the boxes of vinyl, most managers sent them back. But a nostalgic few decided to give the retro-product a whirl. A handful of stores figured out ways to display the album, with its skinny, shrink-wrapped 12-inch-by-12 inch packaging. Twenty copies sold on the first day. After a week, 55 had sold.

Now Fred Meyer is "doing a test" in 60 stores, stocking 20 albums, ranging from a reissue of The Beatles' "Abbey Road" to the new Raconteurs album on premium 180-gram vinyl.

"They're selling really, really well," Merrill said. "The biggest seller is 'Abbey Road.' "

She added that Fred Meyer stores will likely offer more vinyl releases and different models of high-end turntables that plug into stereo systems, including one with a computer port that allows vinyl-to-MP3 transfer.

Sensing the changing mood about the format, Amazon and Best Buy also have started stocking new vinyl titles. But that was a calculated move, unlike Fred Meyer's.

"I really don't know what to make of it," Merrill said.

Isaacson, however, has a pretty good idea about what's happening. He's not persuaded by the argument that everything sounds superior on vinyl. CD technology, he said, has caught up.

No, the re-emergence, he said, has more to do with a consumer revolt.

"It's the usual backlash when the market becomes unresponsive to what people want," Isaacson said. "People were forced to buy CDs that have become worthless now that you can download music. The industry chose CDs, the people didn't choose CDs."

This much is clear: It's once again safe to lug those old Who and Bob Marley records out of the basement without looking like a dinosaur to your kids. People get ready. Play 'em if you've got 'em.


No comments:

Post a Comment