Will vinyl be the next big thing… again?

The vinyl; it was once the epitome of consumable personal music. It hosted a certain charm and distinguishing fascination.
We successfully engineered a technology to produce a cleaner sound but in time the customer has manifested a yearning to get that infamous ‘crackle’ back – the crackle that sits alongside the music, serving as a constant reminder that blood sweat and tears have gone into this creation. With a CD or an mp3 track you don’t get to be part of it – clearing the dust from the cartridge, crouching with anticipation, waiting for the warm attentive hum as the needle finds the groove. It reminds you that the music you’re listening to is real. You can hold it, feel it and smell it.

Have you ever wondered what that ‘curious thing’ is about owning a vinyl? I have… It’s a commodity fetish.

Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly host respect for the technological advancements that have been made in terms of portability, durability and storage but a vinyl collection isn’t just a personal anthology of music, but art.

It may be that you have tens of thousands of tracks jammed onto a hard drive, and yes it may be spatially more efficient, but you have nothing to physically show for your money. It’s becoming common knowledge that CD sales are on the decline, and vinyl records are somehow making it back into fruition, which is bloody good news after the doom and gloom of how much the industry is losing on illegal downloads.

“You may download illegally when you’re a bit younger, but if you really love music, you will probably want a record deck and to buy vinyl when you’re a twenty something” says David Cooper, Head of In House Press. “I think when you realise you can get any record on the internet for free it actually becomes a bit boring. Admittedly it was exciting for a period of time – I, the consumer, realised I could get so much for free with little to no consequences, but after much deliberation it does eventually become a bit lacklustre. The current consumer will eventually prefer purchasing product, and making a commitment to their artists.

Financially for labels the extra we’re selling in vinyl doesn’t make much difference and most sales are made on tour rather than through record shops – vinyl is very expensive to manufacture. But the money we lost through illegal downloads is definitely being made up through more merchandise/tour sales, mail order direct sales and sync income [film and TV music usage].

I think every band would like to release their music on vinyl, it’s really whether they can afford to as it generally costs around £1,000 to make 300 – 500 seven inches.”

Studies show that the British sales of seven-inch records peaked in 1979, with 89 million copies sold – the same year Art Garfunkel released Bright Eyes, selling 1,115,000 copies. As CDs became more prevalent the seven-inch sales slumped to less than 180,000 in 2001, however in 2009 sales began to rise again to around 223,000.
Total album sales (UK) were dominated in 1975 by vinyl albums (92 million trade deliveries) and in 1992 by CD’s (71 million deliveries). In 2008, digital album downloads represented 7%: 10.3 million albums of the total.

Almost 30% of global music revenues were generated via digital downloads in 2011, generating a total of £2.6bn; but the big question is, of what percentage of that remaining 70% were purchased on vinyl?

Total vinyl album sales topped 2.8million in 2009, up a million on the year before in the US. British sales are rising fast too, after an increase of 5.2% last year. Music experts believe the true figures are even higher as official statistics only include sales from retailers that report to the Official UK Charts Company – small shops and records sold at gigs aren’t included.

Despite it being an expensive process, there are a lot of current bands still choosing to release singles on 7 inch vinyl. The MySpace famed indie band Arctic Monkey’s famously released their debut album ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, with a download code secured inside the sleeve. Not only making that copy of the album unique, but the quirky nature of the product notably increased their sales.

I’ve no doubt that vinyl sales will continue to rise, but I can’t see the music industry benefitting massively from its return.

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