Vinyl Gets Another Spin
Metallica's new release, "Death Magnetic," went on sale on Sept. 12, but fans who want the vinyl version may have to wait. Even when it was available for pre-order, the two-LP set was one of the fastest-selling music items on Amazon.com recently and is temporarily out of stock.
The heavy-metal titans are among a wave of artists putting out albums in an old format: the vinyl LP. Madonna and Coldplay recently issued deluxe vinyl versions of their latest records. U2 and Van Morrison are re-releasing their back catalog on vinyl. New LP titles are coming in the weeks ahead from Oasis, Bob Dylan and Kings of Leon.
The 12-inch vinyl LP record -- in decline for the past two decades, clung to only by DJs, audiophile nerds and collectors -- is making a stand amid the digital revolution. World-wide sales of LP records doubled in 2007 (from three million to six million units) after hitting an all-time low in 2006, according to IFPI, the international recording industry trade association. Global sales of CDs dropped 12% in the same period, after having fallen 10% the previous year. Turntable sales in the U.S. increased more than 80% from 2006 to 2007 and continue to rise this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. "Last year and this year have been our busiest ever," says Kris Jones of London's Sounds of the Universe record shop, which sells more music on vinyl than on CD. "It's really crazy."
Record companies are looking for innovative ways to make people pay for music -- often music they already have in another format -- rather than get it free or at a reduced price over the Internet.
"There's a reaction against the commoditization of music" that downloading represents, says Mike Allen, a music industry consultant and former vice president of international marketing for record company EMI Group. "With vinyl there's something that has innate value -- a physical object."
Sound quality also plays a role. Vinyl fanatics have always maintained that LPs sound warmer and richer than digital formats. Some acts, like Beck, Tom Petty and Fleet Foxes, are playing to fans of both the old and new technology by including free CDs or MP3 downloads with vinyl versions of their albums.
Amazon recently launched a vinyl section with more than 250,000 titles, and bricks-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy and HMV are stocking more LPs. Indie record shops such as Other Music in New York and Amoeba Music in Berkeley, Calif., never stopped selling records.
Late last year, Radiohead made its new album available online and asked people to pay whatever they wanted to for it. But they also released the music in an $80 "discbox" edition, with two vinyl records, two CDs and a souvenir booklet. Even with the music available digitally for free, Radiohead has sold more than 60,000 discboxes. "People want to hold something," says Mr. Jones. "They like the pictures, the artwork."
So do older listeners, who remember when buying a new record was special. "You forget how gigantic the artwork was, how much more interesting the albums are than CDs or downloads," says Mr. Allen. "It's a bit of a lost joy."
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Vinyl Gets Another Spin