As CD sales drop, LPs make a comeback
Published in April, 2009
Alan Black, operations manager for WAAM, bought his first vinyl LP, a Nirvana bootleg, in 1996, five years before he owned a turntable.
Black initially saw it as an obscure collector's item from his favorite band. Now he's an avid record collector.
"I don't think anything beats the active listening experience that comes with listening to vinyl," Black says. "Having to put the needle down on the record, and flip sides, and be careful with it. It makes it more intimate than just putting iTunes on shuffle."
Matt Bradish, owner of Underground Sounds, also prefers vinyl records to CDs. "The problem with CDs is, number one, the artwork is way too small," he says. "And number two, a lot of people believe that . . . the [digital] sound is too compressed."
Many experts predicted vinyl would disappear after CDs were introduced in the 1980s. But now, as CD sales plummet, records are making a comeback. According to Nielsen Sound-Scan, the number of vinyl LPs sold in the U.S. nearly doubled last year, to 1.88 million units. And while no one tracks sales in Ann Arbor, it's clear the town is ahead of the curve when it comes to the vinyl revival.
"Ann Arbor's always been a place where people sought vinyl," says Peter Dale, owner of Encore Recordings. And though Encore specializes in used music, lately more customers are buying brand-new LPs.
At Underground Sounds, Bradish says that half his total sales currently come from new vinyl LPs and 45s. He would sell even more if small print runs didn't make them so difficult to get.
"Major labels don't have any of their own record pressing capacity anymore," Bradish explains. "They have to use an outside source. And from what I hear there are only two really large pressers in the country that can handle large volumes. And these people have been at capacity for years, so things get way backed up, and demand just keeps growing and growing."
New vinyl usually sells
for $10 to $40, depending on size of print run, label, artwork, vinyl color, vinyl weight, and other variables. "People are fussy and rightly so," says Encore's Dale. "They're paying a premium for their vinyl when it's new, and they expect it to be in great condition and good quality-and it is." Most coveted are heavy "180-gram" records. Since they're expensive to produce, most of those tend to be classic reissues-stuff the labels know will sell.
"We're definitely carrying more new vinyl than we ever have," says Forest Juziuk, an employee at Wazoo Records, "and we're constantly kind of making more room for it, get-ting rid of CDs." Currently, Juziuk says, the store is evenly split between new and used sales and between CDs and vinyl-but the pendulum is swinging toward new records.
Paradoxically, Dale credits much of the increased interest in vinyl to the introduction of USB turntables that plug directly into a computer. Wazoo's Juziuk adds that many new records come with free download coupons, so customers get the best of both worlds: the analog LP for at-home listening and a digital MP3 for easy portability and access.
Juziuk doesn't just sell vinyl-he produces it through his music label, Hall of Owls. "This band in Royal Oak, New Granada, they just put out a new album on vinyl only with the download coupon," he says. "They're not gonna do CDs at all."
[Originally published in April, 2009.]
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