Vinyl comes full circle « Big Orange Slide #vinyl #nowplaying #business

Vinyl comes full circle

January 28, 2010 by David Faris

Illustration by David Faris

An unexpected resurgence has taken place in the music marketplace: vinyl is back. In a media landscape that’s moving overwhelmingly in an digital direction, the strong comeback of a seemingly outdated analog format is nothing less than paradigm-challenging. What’s behind the trend, and are there implications for other media? Let’s take a step back.

The traditional evolution of media has always been linear. It is driven forward by technological advance at an ever-accelerating pace.

Over the past 30 years, recorded music has been marketed in a variety of different formats: First, the analog media of vinyl and audio tape, then digital formats (CD, MiniDisc, etc.), and finally audio files (MP3).

A similar progression has taken place in home video, moving from VHS to DVD to downloadable media, while consumer recording and camera technology followed suit. And when competing formats arrive on the marketplace at the same time, it’s survival of the fittest, or perhaps “survival of the best marketed,” as the VHS vs. Betamax or DCC vs. MiniDisc wars confirmed.


As demand for physical copies of albums and films has diminished with the predominance of home computers and digital media players, it seems incredible that an antiquated medium such as the vinyl record would return to retail shelves. But stranger things have happened. It would be unthinkable, for instance, for Super 8 home movie cameras to suddenly reappear on the market, or for VHS to have a second life. But in an industry that’s seen a steady decline in sales for more than a decade, vinyl was one of the big success stories of 2009.

Rolling Stone magazine recently reported that vinyl sales jumped 37% in 2009, “an unexpected bright spot in the slumping retail music market . . . a record in the CD era” (Issue #1093, Dec. 10, 2009). Similarly, Toronto’s weekly, NOW ran a sidebar to its Jan. 14, 2010 cover story, asking the question “Is vinyl the new black?” The piece quoted an unprecedented 37% rise in vinyl sales in Canada in 2009, as well as noting that a new vinyl-pressing plant, RIP-V, had opened in Quebec – a clear indication that a significant demand for the medium exists and is expected to continue.

What is it about this medium that gives it such staying power? In truth, vinyl records never really disappeared completely, but the format did make a decisive exit from the mainstream. Audiophiles, record collectors, and music fanatics have always gravitated to the format, and it’s been kept alive in various music communities, such as dance, hip hop, punk, and jazz. The nostalgia factor certainly comes into play, as the vinyl record is a direct link to music of decades gone by. The tangible, tactile experience of listening to music on a turntable has not been carried into the iPod generation, and perhaps the proliferation of cheap USB turntables has inadvertently sparked some new interest in vinyl records.

Corus Entertainment tapped into this nostalgic link in late 2009, when it rebranded its Hamilton country station to a new “classic hits” format, naming it Vinyl 95.3 FM, with the tagline “Tune into your memories.”

And it keeps going: Vinyl racks have returned not only to your local High Fidelity-style indie music retailer, but to large chains such as HMV and Sunrise Records. Even big-box giant Best Buy is selling records – confirmation that the demand is being taken seriously on a mainstream level.

So while larger music retailers have had to diversify to hawking DVDs, video games, books, and digital music players and accessories to stay alive, it’s strange to see old fashioned albums back on display. It’s not like vinyl’s going to recapture the market in a big way . . . still its presence has been duly noted and embraced.

Besides stalwart labels such as Sundazed and Rhino Records reissuing classic albums on high-quality 180-gram wax, it has become almost compulsory for any notable new release to be pressed on vinyl. And saavy music labels have made it a win/win prospect to purchase the vinyl edition, by including a free download code so that consumers can receive a digital copy of the release to add to their MP3 player.

You can’t listen to your hot new vinyl purchase on the streetcar on your way to work, after all.


The return of the vinyl record album is also good news for the design world. Packaging has always been an important component of music releases, helping define the identity of an album and the brand identity of the band. But in the MP3 era, record covers have been reduced to thumbnail jpegs, a fact bemoaned by designers and music enthusiasts alike. Designers will no doubt savour the opportunity to work large again, and embrace a format that has in the past allowed for much innovation in type design, photography, and packaging.

Whether the dramatic upswing in vinyl sales is merely a temporary, nostalgia-driven trend, or a more long-term phenomena, it remains a landmark turn of events in the evolution of media.

Perhaps vinyl records simply offer something that can’t be duplicated in the digital domain. There is a place for them in the marketplace despite the overwhelming dominance of MP3 players. As Apple has proven over the years, it isn’t necessary to be the biggest player in the market to be a strong presence and a survivor.

So it seems there is indeed a place in the market for both apples and oranges. Make that apples and round black discs.

Cool !

Posted via web from The LP Revival Blog


~ by lprevival on January 29, 2010.

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