For what many may think is a dead format, the fact is that sales of vinyl records are increasing year after year. Nielsen SoundScan projects vinyl in 2011 to have a 25 percent increase in sales from the previous year. But how much is really sold, who buys it, and why?
For perspective, Nielsen has reported about 1 million vinyl sales every year in the past decade stating in 1995. Then in 2008, sales jumped to 2 million and then another half million the following two years.
The projections show this year to have a total finishing sale of 3.6 million, including many from top-selling artists such as Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Mumford & Sons. While it is true that digital downloads account for more than half of all music sales, the June mid-year report by Nielsen showed 155 million records were sold in all formats. Rock is the most popular genre with 52 million sales and rock’s close partner genre, alternative, makes up another 27 million in sales. “About 93 of the 100 best selling vinyl albums in 2011 fall within the rock or alternative genres,” the report states.
Even if vinyl records only account for about 2 percent of the music industry’s sales, the trend cannot be ignored because of one of the final statements worth noting – “Two out of every three vinyl albums are purchased at an independent music store.”
Therefore, a vast majority of these vinyl sales go unreported when transactions take place at independent stores (it’s estimated that there are over 700 independently owned record stores in the US), concerts, and on Web sites. The real number of sales is unknown but what is clear is the success of events such as Record Store Day- where sales for that week in April alone raised 39 percent.
“Independent” may be the buzz word here, but it’s still a business. After all, legend blues guitarist Chuck Berry once said, “Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.”
Infinity Records President Joseph Ostermeier says, “Vinyl business is still a niche business. If you do not stock what is hot, same as the CD format, you will be short lived in the business.”
Infinity Records opened their shop in 1990 in Long Island’s Massapequa Park and is known for their collection of jazz and soul records.
Ostermeier sees the changes in the industry saying, “Younger people are purchasing vinyl more now than in the past, ten years or so, but only if the price point is good ($12-24.99). Once the audiophile pressing pricing kicks in, $30 to $75, younger people cannot afford that.”
This is a realization that Bridge Nine Records knows as well as their shift in vinyl sales has been “noticeable over the last few years.” The label, which works with artists such as Agnostic Front, New Found Glory and Defeater knows that people are hard-up on cash.
“When we launch sales for a new album fans like to be able to get more than just the release, so we put together package deals for those fans who want multiple items, says Bridge Nine employee Seth Decoteau. “It helps people save a little since we tend to make the packages discounted and they don’t have to go add four items to their shopping cart.”
And as people feel the necessity for the tangible product, the large artwork, or increased sound quality. “You feel a closer connection to the music when you own the album,” says Sound Fix owner James Bradley.
Sound Fix opened eight years ago in Brooklyn and they are still catering to the indie world of music. “People like the idea of building a personal collection- it reveals a great deal about your personality,” says Bradley.
The store’s future will still hold vinyl, but what will happen for the future of the CD? Bradley sees the CD may be extinct one day, he doesn’t think it will happen for a while saying that labels aren’t ready to go to an all digital format.
Chunksaah Records works with artists such as Hot Water Music and Tim Barry, and they are one of those labels that promote vinyl. Based out of New Jersey and owned by members of the punk band The Bouncing Souls and their manager k8, the label has and probably will always produce vinyl records.
Zak Kaplan has been working at Chunksaah for over 11 years and has seen their vinyl sales rise during that time. They like to have fun by pressing different versions because they know the fans are into the collectable nature of it.
But Kaplan sees the practical uses for CDs too, mentioning the ease of file transporting, that CD drivers are in computers, and that older folks purchase them. And while Kaplan doesn’t see the death of the CD format in general soon, he says, “We at Chunksaah don’t really like CDs, they don’t sell as well as they used to, but we leave it up to the bands to decide. If the band, via their fans demand, want us to make CDs for them, we probably wouldn’t say no.”
And they don’t have a problem with their fans. Kaplan says, “We really appreciate the people who support us. We know they could illegally download whatever they want, anytime they want, but they choose to support us anyway.”
Deathwish Inc. is also another label that will manufacture and distribute what their fans and bands desire.
“We’ve always released vinyl as it’s been an important part of hardcore and punk subcultures since its birth,” says label owner and singer of Converge, Jacob Bannon. “I don’t envision that changing any time soon.”
Deathwish Inc. is mainly a hardcore and metal label whose artists include Touché Amoré and Deafheaven. The label hosts many events at their headquarters in Beverly, MA, where fans and supporters can buy vinyl and other products. “It’s important for us to know them, just as it’s important for them to know that we are a small business, simply doing what we love,” says Bannon.
These independent stores and record labels love vinyl. Whether it’s the collectable factor, the different colors, or the gram weights- vinyl continues to sell more and more every year. Today, when compared to two decades ago, fans have nearly tripled vinyl record sales.
Though vinyl isn’t exclusive to one particular genre, it does have a specific mentality according to Bannon. “Symbolically it’s quite the opposite of how many people experience music on a surface level. It’s [vinyl] meant to be a line in the sand between a casual listener and an audiophile.”