Despite frequent reports that vinyl recordings were to become an obsolete medium, it seems that the format has made a comeback. There are even theories that vinyl may actually be the savior of a flagging record industry. Amazingly, in these days of digital releases, it seems that many consumers are now seeing vinyl as a way to show their support for the music they love.
This news is supported by sales figures that show, in the U.S. alone. Vinyl album sales have grown steadily for the past six years, with a 25% leap in 2011 from 3.5 million units sold as compared to 2.8 million in 2010. Ironically, even as companies champion the ease of storage and portability of digital music it is precisely the physical nature of vinyl that has proven to be its appeal.
Many music fans are recognizing the tangible connection to the music that vinyl provides, regardless of if they own a turntable or not. The appeal seems to be in actually owning a physical product, in contrast to the virtual and binary nature of digital downloads. Added to these are the additional boons of the cover art and liner notes which vinyl records provide, as well as a feeling that buying vinyl allows fans to ‘prove’ their dedication to their chosen musical tastes. An increasing number of aficionados are also recognizing the higher quality that vinyl can provide, particularly with bass frequencies, over the digital alternatives.
Where many felt that DJs were turning away from the cumbersome vinyl format, turntablists and other, less dextrous, DJs are also still supporting vinyl releases. Furthermore, there are moves to combat the problems of portability as labels such as Drum and Bass label Hospital Records offer free digital downloads with any vinyl purchase.
It is perhaps somewhat ironic that the very manufacturers who stopped pressing vinyl in the late 1990s may soon find that the format will help prop up their sales figures. The increase in sales numbers are not just a reflection of consumer tastes, but could also prove to be a God-send for the record industry. With vinyl sales increasing from 1.9 million units in 2007 to 5.9 million units in 2011, the financial rewards are evident as sales rose from $26.9 million to $124 million over the same period.
Record stores have also taken notice, with many once again increasing the floor-space given over to vinyl. Helping to propel the surge in vinyl sales is ‘Record Store Day.’ The special day, April 16th, was created by enthusiasts in 2007 to celebrate independent record stores. In fact, 2011 marked the most successful Record Store Day yet, as Neilsen SoundScan reported a 39% increase in sales when compared to the week before.
Bands are also finding that they are gaining increased momentum by simply pressing a few hundred copies of a release on vinyl and selling them when they go on tour. However, sales are not only focused on new releases, as a thriving second-hand vinyl market exists with a great number of collectors seeking out rarities and original vinyl pressings of favorite releases. Alongside these original pressings, there is a strong re-press market for classic albums; a fact borne out by the fact that ‘Abbey Road’ by The Beatles was the United States’ top-selling vinyl album of 2011, with 41,000 units sold.
Despite these reports, the news is not all positive for vinyl as 7″ single sales continue to decline. However, this is unlikely to take the shine off of the favorable news of the overall increase in vinyl sales and production. With reports saying that those stores stocking vinyl are the few independent retailers who are still thriving in the digital age; clearly the format simply refuses to go away.
So, whether it is nostalgia, a love for the physicality, appreciation for the warm sound quality, or even kids buying vinyl to put on their walls, it is clear that vinyl is serious business in 2012.