Monday, October 20, 2008

Sales of vinyl records scratching back

Despite innovation's best efforts, "true" music lovers are returning to the basics.

"It seems like you get more for your money with a record than with a dinky piece of plastic," said Randy Whipple, a resident of Salt Lake City who has been collecting vinyl records consistently since the 1970s. "Records are warm and pure, ears were made to listen to vinyl, to analog not digital."

Even as people scrapped vinyl when CDs hit the market, thinking the plastic platters were dinosaurs akin to 8-track tapes or casettes, Whipple kept on collecting.

Employees at record stores in Salt Lake City such as Randy's Records, Gray Whale and Slowtrain have seen an increased interest from customers in both new and used vinyl products. In recent years many labels and recording companies are again producing artists' work on vinyl along with more common formats such as compact discs and digital downloads in response to consumers' demands to have a needle feed the music to their speakers.

"Record companies are beginning to flood the market with re-releases and new pressings from artists," said Samuel Stinson, an employe at Randy's Records. "Vinyl is the only format things will sell on; people buy it because with digital downloads it (vinyl) is one of the only tangible materials people can still get."

Since the Recording Industry Association of America began tracking digital sales it is apparent where consumers are gravitating. In 2005 physical copies of music, opposed to digital, represented 91 percent of sales. In 2007 digital reduced that figure to 77 percent, according to year-end shipment statistics from RIAA.

Yet, as the sales of physical formats for musical consumption drop, one form is regaining its footing among listeners. Vinyl records have seen the rise and fall of 8-tracks, cassette tapes, and now, as CD sales slump, vinyl is continuing to spin.

The recording industry estimates that people over age 40 account for nearly half of all music purchases, yet Stinson has observed it is younger generations who are spurring the return of vinyl as a common medium.

"Young people have started buying records across the board," Stinson said. "It's the teens, 20-something's and 30-something's who are buying newer records."

Between 2006 and 2007, CD units, which account for more than 80 percent of the market, slipped by 17.5 percent. Vinyl records, which represent about 1 percent of the market, is the only physical mode to see growth since digital made its splash. Over the same time period, vinyl LP and EPs shipped to suppliers grew by 36.6 percent.

While Stinson doesn't believe record sales will make any significant impact on the market, the growth and interest generated by collectors over the years has been enough to sustain some record shops in the valley. Randy's Records has been operating in the same downtown location since 1979 when Randy Stinson — the store's namesake — first opened shop.

For collectors like Whipple, record collecting is about the hunt — digging and picking through box after box, looking for that special something that catches the buyer. Whenever Whipple travels, he said his first stop is at a local record shop to see what records are waiting.

"It's surprising vinyl has made the comeback it has," Whipple said. "I think it's because CD's are on their way out and now people are finding these records and realized CD's weren't all they were hopped up to be."

Whipple concedes CD's have had their place — they're convenient in comparison to a bulky record and you can't play a record in the car or take it jogging. But the digital revolution has prompted the CD's swan song with MP3 players that can fit in your pocket filled with the works of thousands of artists.

In response to consumers digital desires, record companies are providing digital copies of the album within vinyl packages so collectors can have the best of both worlds. The recent release of Portishead's LP "Third" on Mecury Records includes an MP3 certificate so buyers can have a digital copy, too.

With record companies re-releasing popular artists work on vinyl and newer artists embracing the format, younger crowds are being converted to record collecting.

Nick Woodward, a Salt Lake City resident, began collecting records after a favorite band, Make Believe, released an album exclusively on vinyl. He bought the album and a record player two years ago and he's been collecting ever since, he said. On Friday, Woodward attended a fall dollar event hosted by Randy's Record's and added Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" to his collection along with a Bill Cosby recording.

As a growing number of listeners have begun turning to vinyl as a way to maintain a material connection to music, Matt Sullivan, founder and co-owner of Light in the Attic Records, said his company has been releasing hand-numbered and limited edition pressing of records to appeal to collectors.

"Record sales have always been important for us because we have an audience that loves music," Sullivan said. "But we have definitely seen a growth in our record sales in the past six months. Some of our titles would sell more on vinyl but we keep the pressings limited to keep them special."

Sullivan said the bulk of sales are still dominated by CD's, but digital downloads are growing fast and he expects they will surpass other formats soon.

"I'm predicting that in another five years our sales will be a small percentage of vinyl with the rest largely being digital," Sullivan said.

[Deseret News]

1 comment:

  1. I agree they are really on track and heading north. Vinyl discs are superb once and for all.