Friday, 4 April 2014

Vinyl Redux

LP's and the reasons for the revival
Even if you only have a passing interest in music you'd have to be hiding under a very large rock with your fingers in your ears not to noticed the resurgence in interest in what some must have thought as a dead format–the Long Playing record.

Last week I walked past a local Hi-Fi shop which had a very lovely display of Turntables in the window, very prominently placed and in a range of bright colours.
Later, whilst buying the children a DVD I noticed that a large high street retailer has vinyl back in stock, only a few hundred albums but significantly placed to give them prominence; to cap it off they had new vinyl editions of many Beatles albums near the point of sale area.

Something is indeed happening, a format that all but disappeared in the late 1990's is becoming main stream enough to be prominently displayed in large chain shops like HMV.

Returning home I decided to investigate further, and sure enough sales of LP's have been steadily increasing:

The graph above shows American sales of LP's the UK sales are similar showing a resurgence from around 2007 (a significant date which I'll touch on later).
Although they are still a small fraction of the overall music sales they appear to be an increasingly significant one, figures suggest that over 25 million albums were sold worldwide in 2012 which makes pressing them increasingly viable.

What are the causes?
Why? I hear you ask – how can this format return to relevance? The answers aren't simple, CD was supposed to supplant vinyl by about 1990 and downloads to a large degree have had the same effect on that format in return.
It seems that in a small measure vinyl has a higher value to consumers, large artwork, a pleasing artifact that is fun to collect at car boot and junk shops as well as buy new.
Record companies and artists have helped by including download vouchers in the vinyl helping people download to their iPad as well as own the large artwork just for a few pounds more than a CD.
Couple that to the fact most new content consumption devices (Smartphones, iPads, Laptops etc) no longer have CD drives which to rip your music anyhow, so if you want to own the recording vinyl offers a way to collect music.
Software sometimes tries to mimic the vinyl interaction, programs like 'coverflow' are software abstractions akin to flipping though a pile of LP's.

The changes in the way the end user consumes music haven't gone un-noticed by vinyl shop owners who seeing an increasingly young demographic coming through their doors needed a promotional vehicle to reach people.

In my opinion the breakthrough came in 2007 (look at when the sales uptick starts on the graph above) when hundreds on independent record shops joined together for 'Record Store Day' 
People queueing for Record store day 2014
Artists and Stores ran promotions like limited edition vinyl, personal appearances, quizzes and other events.
Vinyl finds itself in the public eye with this kind of promotion, which connects it with consumers, once people browse the stores they'll be more inclined to buy.

All this is great, but ultimately will be unsustainable or a 'fad' if those young newly introduced consumers are just buying the odd limited edition for collection and a copy of a cool LP for a picture frame on the bedroom wall.
Though if what the Hi-fi shops are seeing is the case and turntatable sales are also increasing exponentially (one manufacturer boasts they sell 8,000 per day) someone is actually playing those records–the future looks good for the vinyl LP.

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