Record Renaissance

As widely reported (in the BBC and Guardian among others) vinyl sales are on the up, this year sales topping the one million mark in the UK which is the record’s best year since 1996. The music industry took a bit of a battering from the internet and sales were on a downward trend for years but there seem to be green shoots of recovery for vinyl, from a low of £3 million five years ago sales of records were £20 million this year and counting.

This is of course great news for collectors, new and old, with sales on an upward trend more and more releases will be committed to wax. The decline of the record shop appears to be turning a corner too, with more independent stores opening than closing and Record Store Day celebrating the format and taking it to a wider audience.

Earlier this year Jack White’s Lazaretto sold 40,000 vinyl copies in one week, becoming the first album to hit number one on vinyl sales since Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy back in 1994.  Bands like Arctic Monkeys have helped a new generation turn on to vinyl representing something of a reaction to the ‘own-nothing’ nature of online music streaming. You can’t love a download, it’s hard to treasure a CD and lest we forget all that classic album artwork was designed to be 12ʺ by 12ʺ.

Because the ‘music industry’ is concerned with sales of new music, not the second hand market it’s almost impossible to find reliable data on the value of the resale market. I’d love to see figures that chart the sales of used music against new, some of the worst years for record sales coincided with some of the leanest years financially like following the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent recession. I know, for example, that new cars sales declined in this period and more used cars were sold so did something similar happen with records?

The entire industry supporting second hand record sales seemed to actually improve with the internet rather than suffer from it, if you were a collector looking for a rare release you’d have to scour record fairs and shops on the hunt for it previously where nowadays sites like Discogs and eBay gave you immediate access to the world’s sellers.

The focus on new record sales is great for the record labels and a lot of record shops but for the average music fan it’s difficult to justify buying records over other formats, I did a bit of research on the current top 10 albums at the (popular independent chain) Rough Trade, all were between £10 to £12 on CD but £19 to £37 on vinyl, in most cases around twice the price. All of these albums were £8 or £9 on iTunes and one assumes, available for ‘free’ through illegal means.

If you want to get people buying music again the price point for records is a big issue, bullish pricing by the record labels won’t get the industry back to anything like its best years, one million sales is great but it was 90 million in 1975. Even when you roll vinyl, CD and digital sales into one the music industry is still a fraction of its previous size and the industry needs to adapt to survive. I genuinely believe there is traction in getting people excited about records (and CDs) again but that means getting new people into record shops and they’re unlikely to do that en masse when you’re charging over twice the price for the format.

I’ve got younger cousins who are discovering music properly for the first time and my advice for them is the same advice give on this blog, go and pick up some second hand records, get ten old records off eBay rather one new album for the same price. The (new) music industry will reap the benefits eventually, but the record was never on its knees, just the labels profits were, music fans continue to  enjoy the format and spread the word to the next generation.


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