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Eliot Van Buskirk of Wired points out that RIAA numbers show that records are on the rise again, after two years of declining sales. No, I’m not just using the old-fashioned term "records" to refer to something else — I mean records, as in vinyl, as in big round things with grooves that you put on phonographs. $22.9 million worth of retail value moved in records in the US alone — not a huge industry, necessarily, but nothing to be sneezed at, either. By the way, even though the CD industry is shrinking fast, $7.5 billion of CD albums were sold in 2007. So the record industry has every right to be scared by rapidly-depleting sales — and every opportunity to be intrigued by the money that might be made on digital (which, totaling all different formats, was well over $2 billion).

In fact, here’s one for you: online digital growth outpaces CD shrinkage by a factor of greater than 2:1. It’s tough to project rates forward, but that should be a good sign.

RIAA Admits Vinyl Sales Are Climbing [ Wired.com Listening Post ]

I think the vinyl anomaly, though, is brilliant for a whole number of reasons. What you read in the press about the music biz is pretty one-dimensional. We’re expected to believe the industry is collapsing, and sales are down. The reality is much more complicated. Here are some other factoids you can extract from the RIAA’s 2007 sales figures in the news of the weird category:

  • High-def audio formats have completely failed — so much that cassette sales are equivalent to units of SACDs and DVD Audio combined.
  • More money was spent on mobile downloads than single downloads elsewhere — thanks to the fact that they’re so ridiculously expensive, of course.
  • People spent nearly as much on vinyl records in 2007 as they did on music videos online ($28.2 million).

So, here’s to the cassette and the vinyl record. And what does all this really demonstrate? To me, it’s a blunt reminder that what the record industry has failed to do is successfully transition to new media and new, more diverse audiences. When cassette sales started to deteriorate with the introduction of the CD, no one said the industry was doomed then. Vinyl was a great format, which is why it’s still alive. The online formula is starting to come together, but it’s just not quite there yet. And given that most of the industry’s money still comes from CDs, it seems like it’s likewise time to figure out how to get more mileage out of that format and slow the decline, rather than obsess over it, while continuing to work on new formats.

Photo: Michelle’s House of Disco.

  • http://www.thingstocome.com/ Oliver Chesler

    Indeed! Tell me you don't want this new release?
    http://www.vimeo.com/912642

  • dead_red_eyes

    It's great to see vinyl on the rise again!!!

  • http://keithhandy.com Keith Handy

    I've always wanted to release music on vinyl.

  • Mr. Tunes

    i don't think it's the music industry's fault that newer formats such as DVD-Audio have failed.

    not enough people are investing in 5.1 home theatres to the point where the format is getting very little love from the audio industry itself(how often is there new gear for 5.1 mixing released?).

    anyways i thought it was refreshing to see that tunecore is now offering vinyl
    http://tinyurl.com/5342bn

  • lematt

    the problem with 5.1 systems is that if you use it in the normal stereo mode, it's pretty rare to have a really good quality: i mean it's never as good as a good stereo system, for what i tested so far.

    about the vinyl: audiophiles among others, prefer the vinyl than the CD, 'cause the dynamic is much much better. And i agree with them, especially on percussions (and that's why it's so good on techno !)

  • Mike

    I got my vinyl copy of Third (new Portishead album) on Friday, what I really liked about that was that they bundled it with a USB stick with the .mp3s (320kbps if anyone's interested) on so I can still shove it on my iPod. Mind you, it did cost me £40.

  • Rozling

    Hi Mike, I was just going to write a post about this type of thing. I think £40 is expensive, but I think this is in the ballpark of the right idea. Here's a repost of my thoughts gathered on this a while back, as posted on the Ableton forum:

    Mp3s are obviously the way of the future, but they're also dead money – no-one is going to buy your mp3s from you off your hard drive. They also lend themselves to piracy, which does hurt us musicians in the long run. IMO the record companies should take the effort they're expounding on ISPs & Metallica fans and re-focus it on what's gonna persuade music users to go the legitimate route – merchandising.

    By this I mean: Offering music purchasers tangible rewards for taking the time to whip out their credit card. Since the '60s we have always got this reward – we hand over the cash and get at least two pieces of art, one in the form of the (large) record sleeve and the other being the album inside. Then commonly you'd get stickers, more art or whatever too. These days it costs €30 for Daft Punk's Discovery on vinyl (at HMV), with not so much as a postage stamp by way of a reward for shelling out.

    What they should do is this: if you pay online for the mp3/flac version of an album, you get a coupon for a free/discounted vinyl version as a tangible, physical reward (or offer vinyl at decent prices with vouchers for downloads – I've seen this on local release here and thought it was a fantastic idea). iPodders, as a reward for actually paying, get a tangible connection to the music. Music collectors gain tradeability which might hurt sales in one way but will make them more likely to fork out for deluxe/vinyl only/limited editions with included art etc. DJs really win because they'll be able to make real use of both mp3 and vinyl. And deservedly so – they're vital to regenerating interest & the more formats in which they have access to music the more it'll benefit the industry.

  • Mr. Tunes

    lematt: i agree with you about the 5.1 problem and how it sounds in stereo, but i thought the method was to release two separate discs? one in standard audio cd and the other in DVD-Audio or whatever they chose.

    Rozling: good points, i think they could also offer a code inside the vinyl that let's the user redeem the mp3s online, thereby reducing the price not having to throw in a physical key(although it's a useful souvenir).

    here's a good article and discussion on the economics of releasing vinyl btw.

  • http://www.rtopia.net r

    semi off topic…

    does anyone else see a missed opportunity in the records companies not taking the master every "out of print" title and offering it digitally?

    I could think of 100's of titles I have on cassettes (oxidized and unplayable) that never made it to CD that I'd like to have right now.

    r

  • ami

    Downloads=xerox copies

    CDs=paperbacks

    Vinyl=hardbacks

    People want hardbacks for their library.

  • GaryG

    So who's still releasing cassettes? Haven't seen them locally for years…

    I reckon the ultimate novelty/geek/collector scam would be to encode the mp3s of a release as data on a vinyl record like they used to do with zx81/c64 etc. programs on flexi disks.

  • http://www.thumbuki.com/ Jacob Joaquin

    I've purchased a few records over the past year. And I don't even own a player. :)

    It's too bad a high-def digital audio format never took off. If one ever did, I hope 5.1 and stereo mixes would be included on one disc. Sometimes stereo just sounds better.

  • Sizzurp Sippa

    It seems to me there are three groups of people who purchase vinyl:

    1. DJs who spin vinyl.

    2. People who purchase vinyl as 'unique' collectors items.

    3. Audiophiles, with their $50,000 hi-fi systems.

    For the DJs, it makes sense. Certain styles of music will, for the time being, always need to release vinyl. Jeff Mills isn't going to be replacing his vinyl with MP3s any time soon.

    However, even though the best DJs use vinyl, those guys are now in their late 40s already, and eventually things will change.

    For the collectors, the there is the collectors-paradox. The more popular vinyl gets, the less unique (and therefore less collectible) that media becomes. The higher the demand for vinyl, the lower the demand for vinyl from the collectors. So, while it might get a little more popular, the second every lame pop band decides to sell vinyl records is the day the "cool kids" stop buying vinyl records.

    For the audiophiles, there are only a tiny fraction of people who are going to be able to afford audiophile gear, so it isn't really significant.

    Downloads=xerox copies

    CDs=paperbacks

    Vinyl=hardbacks

    People want hardbacks for their library.

    Not exactly… As CDs and downloads are more robust than records. I have had records that I played so much that they eventually worn out – Never had that trouble with CDs or downloads.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I don't know, Sizzurp, I think there are some people who still purchase records and play them, making a fourth category, albeit with some overlap for the other other three. And there are definitely audiophiles with hi-fi systems that aren't $50k. But of course it's a niche.

    I would have to take issue with the "CDs are more robust than records" claim, though; CDs have proved to be less robust than originally anticipated. And unlike records, CDs don't degrade gracefully; as a digital medium, they'll just cease to work altogether (or skip uncontrollably). Downloads fare better, but you'd better have an offsite backup plan. ;) Online storage should make this picture much, much better. But CDs and plastic in general are going to be a huge problem for archivists and history.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I'm not *advocating* vinyl by any means — but it's worth noting these legitimate differences.

  • zenzen

    I'm not a DJ; not a collector; not a capital-A Audiophile.

    Perhaps it's just me, but with all my digital music now resident on a 1 TB drive, my listening used to consist of a couple of hours of jumping from song to song, playing bits of each like an aural smorgasbord. That approach has it's charms, but… I've been buying used vinyl recently (<$5 each), which I play on a decommissioned DJ SL1200. I just love the dusting ritual and how it makes me slow down and listen to music the way I used to: all the way through!

    If more gets released on vinyl, I'm hoping the prices will also come down. Which is weird because, adjusted for inflation, the price of new vinyl is probably less than it was 20-25 years ago IIRC.

  • HeartPound

    "about the vinyl: audiophiles among others, prefer the vinyl than the CD, ’cause the dynamic is much much better. And i agree with them, especially on percussions (and that’s why it’s so good on techno !)"

    I hate to go down this road, but this is empirically false. Vinyl may sound better to your ears, but records actually allow for less dynamic range than CDs due to the way that they're produced. Vinyl isn't more accurate, either: in fact, the reason that people react well to the sound of vinyl is because of the imperfections it introduces into the sound.

    That having been said, I do agree that those imperfections can be aurally pleasing. The imperfections analog audio devices introduce are the reason for all of the effort that's put into hardware modeling — while digital audio allows for perfect replication of a recording, we often prefer colored sound to the pristine sound.

  • http://evolvingmusic.wordpress.com/ Lisa

    Long live vinyl! Pleasantly surprised to hear that sales are going up. I learned at the digital music forum in NY last month that USB turntables were very popular amongst college students. Maybe that has to do with the flux in sales.

    MixMatchMusic.com

    .Evolving Musi.

  • Sizzurp Sippa

    I would have to take issue with the “CDs are more robust than records” claim, though; CDs have proved to be less robust than originally anticipated.

    A CD can be flawlessly copied. Assuming I am good about backing up my data, once I have music in a non-DRM digital form it is never going away.

    The CDs that I have, that are of music I would be unlikely to ever find if it was lost/destroyed, have been ripped and stored on several backup hard drives that I have. Every few years I will upgrade a backup drive, and so assuming my house isn't burned down or everything is stolen, there isn't a nuclear explosion EMP attack, or some sort of worse case scenario (a scenario that would be far worse than losing my music), my music will be around for a long time.

    On the other hand, ripping my old records is a pain in the ass.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, here you go … here's the opposite direction.

    http://www.turntablelab.com/vinyl/149/627/44702.h

    Buy vinyl Portishead, get MP3 free.

    This solves the archive/backup issue, of course.

  • dead_red_eyes

    We're going to offer a free mp3 download with a vinyl purchase. I'm happy to see that more people/labels are doing that now.

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  • http://www.myspace.com/jnnx Jay Newhouse

    Actually, Peter the truth is mostly mainstream (IE RIAA music) is increasing in vinyl sales. Most underground independent electronic music (what most DJs spin) has actually DECREASED 20-40 percent in sales this year (thanks to beatport and other digital download sites).

    In the underground, vinyl is struggling in the US. Quite a few distros have gone out of business in the past few years, with no one picking them up (which means some labels are very hard to find in the US).

  • http://www.myspace.com/djayjeff jeff

    if all record companies started to give free mp3's with every vinyl disc then we wouldn't need no cd's no more.

    i think cd's are becoming old fashioned and records,mp3's are hip. with dj software you can even play mp3 files with your recordplayer nowadays,so i predict cd's won't be around for long no more.

  • http://www.ghava.com peter rentz

    In 15 years i would rather have a vinyl LP of my favorite release of 2008 than ANY digital files or format because, guaranteed, there will be nothing to play it unless i spend time/money continually updated media and players. Frankly I am tired of anything digital that has to be replaced and updated every 2- 5 years. Of course this is all long term thinking and most kids could care less about a song, no less a full length record, 2 weeks from now. times they are a changin.

  • mark

    the best business model, i think, is for a label to offer vinyl with a voucher for the mp3 download. that way, you get the cool artwork and the physical product, plus you get the digital file for your ipod for when you are out and about.

    i bought portishead that way and i thought it was a brilliant idea…i think fiery furnaces offer this, too…everyone needs to rush out and get a turntable right now and start interacting with your music!

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  • Joe

    Vinyl is dead. Even the 1 person picked as the vinyl holdout (Jeff Mills) has gone digital. If you don't believe me, please visit (http://www.residentadvisor.net/feature-read.aspx?id=901 9th paragraph down).

    People talk about how they love vinyl, but at the end of they day nobody is buying it.

  • listen joe

    Joe, read the article, dumbass.

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