In early July, Neilsen released its mid-year music report and, not surprisingly, vinyl sales are up for an eighth consecutive year. Sales are up an impressive 38.4 percent with a total of 5.6 million units moved at the time of the report. What is surprising, however, is that it is no longer just audiophiles and music purists who are adding to their collections. Younger listeners are getting more and more in on the trend as evidenced by Taylor Swift’s 1989 being the largest seller for vinyl at the time of the report, having moved 34,000 albums.
Jay Frank is the owner of DigSin, a singles focused company that through social media and analytics, introduces new artists to a wider audience. "To a degree, the 13 year old in the early 2000s grew up having never purchased physical music. It was either a cheap download, free stream or something they stole,” Frank says. “Now, this buyer is in their mid-20s and they are willing to show their devotion to the artist and they want to collect. Vinyl checks off so many desire points around physical music that it becomes the natural choice for the person in their 20s who has that disposition to collecting music.“
Discogs is a website that maintains a database of information about audio recordings, which also offers a marketplace for buying and selling vinyl and CDs, and its CEO, Kevin Lewandowski, agrees. "There are a lot of Generation Z buyers. Having been raised on mp3s and the digital format, they’re looking for a more tangible experience, something they can hold in their hands,” says Lewandowski. “They want to feel like they own something, a piece of history. Take a look at our forums or even reddit/vinyl and you will see plenty of stories from this generation, where they own five or six albums but don’t own a turntable. The LPs adorn their wall like modern day masterpieces, still wrapped in the plastic sleeve. With this generation buying mostly new releases in our marketplace, we have seen almost a 40% increase in New Release album sales since 2014.”
Millenials and Generation Z aren’t the only ones contributing to the boom, however, as Lewandowski continued; “We also have buyers who sold their collection in the ’80s and are tracking it down again piece-by-piece, looking to taste that bit of nostalgia. These are parents in their 40s picking up Dark Side of the Moon, Thriller, or Rumours, and dropping a needle on it to introduce their kids to the albums from their heyday.”
For listeners of all ages there’s also all the appeal of all of the extra little goodies that come along with buying wax including the cover art and liner notes that gives these buyers more insight into the recording process.
Says Amy Dietz, the Executive Vice President of INGrooves Music Group, "There’s a generation who had never seen artwork bigger than 1x1 on their computer or iPod, not to mention seeing actual liner notes. That is a big area of growth for vinyl purchases.”
This brings us to the more hardcore collector. These buyers are the market for limited edition reissues, often coinciding with some sort of anniversary with the album or band. These releases are often remastered for an even better sound quality and routinely contain little extras that were not included with the original distribution.
The Stone Roses, for example, have reissued their self-titled debut on several occasions. Their most recent reissue, which hit number one in the UK on the Official Vinyl Albums Chart, was limited to 5,000 deluxe double-vinyl pressings, which was printed on lemon yellow 180-gram wax contained in Stoughton gatefold “tip-on” jackets with the album title in gold foil. Joy Division recently released their entire catalog with extras on vinyl in celebration of the “Love Will Tear Us Apart” single’s 35th anniversary and The Ocean Blue are reissuing their entire Sire catalog come November with limited color editions.
“When people desire a premium item to show their devotion to an artist, vinyl becomes a very cool commodity that is not experienced by everyone,” says Frank.
In addition to nostalgia and having something tangible, audio integrity is often cited as a preeminent reason for the continuing vinyl renaissance. Just a few weeks ago, Neil Young pulled his entire catalog from all streaming services, specifically citing the medium’s quality of sound, which he called “the worst in the history of broadcasting.” (Young is also the main creative force behind Pono, a portable digital media player and music download service for high-quality audio.) Notwithstanding new higher quality streaming alternatives including Deezer and Tidal audiophiles have long championed the analog sound quality that can only be found on vinyl. “Since purists have long cited vinyl sound as being the best for recorded music,” Frank adds, “these music fans are willing to pay premiums to get the best possible experience. In this regard, it’s similar to the willingness to pay premiums for high-end coffee, cocktails and dining experiences.” Thomas Golubic, the Music Supervisor for AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, Better Call Saul, and The Walking Dead, explains why he believes the medium continues to make a comeback: “One reason is the simple tactile pleasure of putting an album on. It’s opening the sleeve, sliding the vinyl out, checking the label and grooves, dropping the needle on the record. It’s all very satisfying. And it slows things down. You commit to an album. You’re letting the artist curate and guide your experience. And you’ve got a convenient half-way point to bail if you need to.
"There is also a sense of community that buying vinyl gives you,” Golubic continues. “Shopping for vinyl at your local record shop just feels good. You know your money is supporting fellow music lovers, and when you pick up vinyl at live shows you are often connecting directly with the artist, and that $20 goes pretty directly to supporting the work.”
As one might expect, turntable sales have spiked in conjunction with the return of wax. British retailer John Lewis has experienced a 240 percent increase in turntable sales for 2015. (However, many of those are USB-enabled turntables, which allow users to create their own digital files directly from the vinyl source. Says Frank: “The irony is that people buy vinyl for the better audio experience, and then settle for sub-optimal speakers to play them through.“) After all that, even with the increase in vinyl and turntable sale record enthusiasts need to temper their excitement. Even though over 11 million vinyl units are projected to be sold this year worldwide, that pales in comparison to the 344 million LPs and EPs that shipped in 1977, when vinyl sales were at their peak. And even with CDs on the decline, 10 discs are sold for every one vinyl record.
Still, these current vinyl numbers are a hopeful sign for music enthusiasts/purists that respect artistry and audio quality. Platters still matter.
Clint Corey is a freelancer who specializes in music and basketball. He will gladly accept any limited edition vinyl as your gratitude for this article. You can follow him on Twitter at @ClintCorey.