From Justin Timberlake to The Beatles to The Magnetic Fields, the music industry has seen one big trend in recent years: an increase in vinyl production.
It comes as a surprise to much of the music-listening world that major record labels have once again begun releasing new albums on vinyl records.
Analog or hard copy recordings, which many thought peaked in popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, became virtually extinct after digital recording appeared in the 1980s. But recent studies by Nielsen SoundScan report the vinyl record as a relevant musical format is slowly making – or remaking – its mark on the same industry that once had it on the ropes.
There’s been much speculation as to why vinyl presses are making such a resurgence; the answer is a combination of reasons – of consumers and record labels.
A report by SoundScan at the end of last year stated more than 2.2 million units of vinyl were sold in 2009, and mainstream retailers such as Walmart, Amazon and Best Buy have begun selling vinyl LPs on their Web sites. Stores like Costco and Urban Outfitters have even introduced turntables to their inventories in the last two years.
A motivation at the forefront of the format shift originates in the audiophilic movement. The consumer target market known as “the audiophiles” is purely concerned with sound quality.
This group claims vinyl records allow for the best possible sound depth, allowing a listener to really hear all the layers of sound on any given track, from the beat to the bass to the vocals. They believe hearing a record on vinyl is hearing the record the way musicians intended it to be heard.
During digital production, the music is compressed and therefore subtly altered, but the dimension of sound offered by vinyl records is deep and ominous – so say the audiophiles.
Another reason for the increased interest in vinyl is the perceived collector’s value of the record. Limited numbers of new vinyl presses draw consumers in by making them feel they own a piece of musical memorabilia.
Depending on band popularity, a record will get anywhere from 500 to 3,000 presses, fewer than demanded, to increase market value among collectors.
Collectors also find value in the artwork of the album sleeves and inserts that are often designed by prominent artists and featured on high-quality, full-color prints.
For many record labels, pressing vinyl albums is simply a diversification of a product line. They have a market interested in investing in records, and they do their best to meet that need. For them, it is a sales game.
Sales of CDs and digital formats still far outweigh vinyl sales, but record companies and press factories are still finding vinyl releases to be a profitable venture.
In 2007, shipments increased to 1.3 million units from 900,000 units moved in the U.S. alone, according to a report published by the Recording Industry Association of America. For smaller and independent record labels, this increase represents a huge profit margin.
Last year, Universal Music Enterprises announced its plans to reissue 40 albums on vinyl, and Warner Music Group announced it will rerelease 30 albums on vinyl, as well as press 12 of its new releases on vinyl.
To meet the needs of an on-the-go society, record companies have even begun to include digital download vouchers with their vinyl records so consumers have the tangible hard copy as well as the portable music. Record labels are using such tactics to prove they have the consumers’ interests at heart.
Abbey Road and 69 Love Songs may have found many fans through their widely acclaimed digital releases, but their vinyl popularity stems from consumers wanting the best experience with the best quality. Buying vinyl records offers clean, beautiful music with the opportunity for music lovers to create memories – and record labels to make sales.