Friday, June 20, 2008

Vinyl LP sales stage comeback against CDs

For every 500 people who buy their music on a compact disc, there's one holdout who still prefers getting it on vinyl.

But that's enough to create a brisk sideline business for vinyl records at two area music stores -- Atlantic Sounds in Daytona Beach and Steve's Downtown Music in DeLand.

"At least 30 percent of our sales are vinyl, and for a music store today, that's a lot," said Michael Toole, owner of Atlantic Sounds, 137 W. International Speedway Blvd. "And most of those sales are to kids in the 16 to 25 bracket. They've learned about vinyl from their parents and they want to see what it's all about."

At Steve's, 108 S. Woodland Blvd., owner Steve Chmielewski said his vinyl sales are smaller -- about 5 percent to 10 percent of his gross -- but some of his regulars are disc jockeys who want nothing else.

"My inventory includes techno music, and some of these DJs will come in and buy 10 albums of it at a time," he said.

Beth Lernke wandered into Atlantic Sounds on Tuesday with her son Kendrick, 13, and they headed toward bins with scores of new vinyl releases.

"He's all into the retro thing," she said. "He says the sound on vinyl is a lot better than a CD."

Toole wholeheartedly agreed.

"CDs are great, but records are better. It's the warmth of the sound that's the difference," he said.

But trying to find a particular new album on vinyl can test a music lover's patience. Toole said major record labels began outsourcing their manufacturing years ago, so now vinyl records are produced at just a few U.S. plants, such as United Record Pressing in Nashville, Tenn. That has led to logjams and waits of six months or longer to get the vinyl version of a recording that's already out in CD format.

New vinyl records also can be pricey, sometimes $5 or $10 more than the equivalent CD. Atlantic's best-selling vinyl, a reissue of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," goes for $30.

However, if buyers can content themselves with used vinyl, there are a lot of bargains to be had. Atlantic, which boasts having thousands of titles in stock, sells most of its secondhand records in the $2 to $4 range. Collectors willing to sift carefully through bins at flea markets and yard sales for LPs still in good shape often can buy them for a buck or less.

Although vinyl is still just a speck of the overall music market, manufacturers' shipments of LPs jumped 36 percent from 2006 to 2007, topping 1.3 million. Nielsen SoundScan estimates sales this year will top 1.6 million. In comparison, CD shipments totaled 511 million, but they were trending downward, dropping 17 percent last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

A few large retailers are starting to pay attention to vinyl again but their supplies remain skimpy.

Best Buy says it is testing the market for vinyl in some of its stores, but spokesman Brian Lucas declined to say where. The chain's Web site lists dozens of different vinyl titles but nearly all of them are labeled

"back-ordered," meaning not immediately available for shipment.

A call to the Daytona Beach Best Buy to inquire about its vinyl inventory drew a puzzled response from a customer service representative.

"What's a vinyl record?" she asked. "Is that something environmental?"

A more knowledgeable co-worker said the store doesn't sell vinyl except for an occasional promotional item, such as a recent anthology of hits by The Who.

But the LP isn't going to muscle out CDs or iPod soon.

Nearly 450 million CDs were sold last year, versus just under 1 million LPs, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Based on the first three months of this year, Nielsen says vinyl album sales could reach 1.6 million in 2008.

Many major artists -- Elvis Costello, the Raconteurs and others -- are issuing LPs and encouraging fans to check out their albums on vinyl. On, one of the best-selling LPs is Madonna's latest album, "Hard Candy".

Some artists package vinyl and digital versions of their music together, including offers for free digital downloads along with the record.


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