Vinyl sees unlikely revival
It sounds like an unlikely revival, but vinyl is scratching and crackling its way back to the top. Seven-inch vinyl records are once again a popular format for some indie singles’ sales in the UK. Sales of 7-inch singles have risen to well over one million this year. The last time things looked this good for vinyl was 1998.
This article was written from a U.K. perspective, but vinyl has seen a similar resurgence in the States, as well. I recall that one of the biggest complaints that music collectors had about replacing their vinyl records with CDs (and then having to eventually purchase CDs in lieu of vinyl) was that the album art was so small. There also still exists that handful of analog aficionados who will claim to the death that vinyl has a superior sound. And then of course there are those who are luddites of sorts, or maybe just overly practical, who never saw the point in “upgrading” their music collection when their records worked (and still work) just fine. All of these types are the people who have probably kept vinyl sales going all these years, even when it now seems that the CD is slowly becoming obsolete.
It is not these people, however, who are responsible for the resurgence in sales that vinyl is currently seeing. It’s the iPod set, a generation whose majority of members probably has no memory of a vinyl record being the primary medium for commercial music distribution. I personally am on the old end of this group, or the young end of the one before it, and I only have vague, vague memories. I do, however, vividly remember the purchase of the first CD player in my house. The thing was ridiculously huge. XBox huge, if you’ll pardon the euphemism. As far as I know, though, the confounded machine is still sitting in the wall unit in my parents’ living room, and it still works. But I digress.
As I was saying, it’s those damn kids who are snatching up these vinyl records and causing this revival of a long-thought-obsolete format. Why? Most of the music that this set is buying (or acquiring) is in digital format — MP3, iTunes…whatever. It’s portable, it’s recordable, it’s transferrable (all for the most part, but I’ll leave my bitching about DRM for another day); arguably it’s better in a million and one ways than any format that has come before it. But it has one major shortfall: it isn’t tangible. Regardless of what music generation you come from, there is always that desire for the album — disc, art and all — to be one that you can touch, see, smell and get autographed by the band that made it.
I don’t know the numbers, and for some reason I get the feeling they wouldn’t be easy to find, but I get the feeling that the music industry is seeing a lot of repeat/duplicate sales of albums in multiple formats — specifically, in digital and physical formats. Now let’s think reasonably for a moment as to why these kids (and hip-to-tech grown-ups) are choosing vinyl over CDs when they purchase a physical version of the album they just downloaded. Even to those who have never used a vinyl record, the format still quinessentially illustrates recorded music itself. Not only that, but if you’re buying something just for it’s physical qualities, you’re going to buy the one that’s bigger, the one that you can hold more of in your hands, the one that you can see and show off the best. By the nature of it’s somewhat archaeic roots, the vinyl record wins this contest hands down.
Sure, the resurgence of the format isn’t huge; there are still only a limited number of new releases available on vinyl, and even then, in limited numbers. But if the trend continues, we could even see a renaissance in album art — a medium that has suffered at the hands of the smaller size of CDs. I wouldn’t mind seeing that happen. The revival seems to also point to another important fact, however, the 800-pound gorilla in the corner, if you will, that even I have been ignoring throughout the duration of this article so as not to pontificate on the recording industry’s continual, intentional oversight of this fact: people are still buying music, even if they download it (without paying) first.