Friday, March 04, 2011

NPR Story - Slow And Steady: Vinyl Survives

I was working on a post on how many of the recent "vinyl revival" news stories that have been popping up over the past few years bug me, when I came across a very good story from NPR called "Slow And Steady: Vinyl Survives."  NPR gives a reality-based account of the recent increase in vinyl sales, along with a thoughtful analysis of why many people still find the format appealing in the year 2011, despite the fact that there are more convenient and cheaper options available to today's music consumer.

The NPR story contains an implicit critique of one of the things that really bothers me about so many other stories devoted to the recent growth in vinyl sales:
"In recent years some headlines have cast an increase in sales for vinyl LPs — once considered a casualty of the CD era — as something like a beacon of hope for the struggling music industry. The reality isn't all that rosy. Though vinyl sales grew by 14% in 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan, they still counted for less than one percent of the year's total album sales."
That is a critical point that is often overlooked. Despite the "spectacular" rise in vinyl's popularity, it still accounts for less than 1% of all albums sold. Vinyl records are very much a specialist, niche, format, and likely to remain so in both the short and long term. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either dreaming or being dishonest. One year growth of 14% sounds spectacular when taken out-of-context, but there are numerous reasons why that growth is unlikely to be sustained long-term that have to do with both the physical reality of pressing records and format demographics, which the NPR piece covers quite nicely.

I highly recommend checking out this story because it avoids the cliches and hyperbole that plague so many of the other recent stories I've seen/heard/read. Rather than point out each of those stories specifically (there are a lot of them), I've created a handy parody that summarizes them instead:

Anchor: "Remember the good old days when you listened to scratchy vinyl records instead of CDs or downloads? Well those days are back!" [Cue sound effect of tonearm skidding across a record.]

Reporter: "While CD sales are down again this year and digital downloads are flat, there's one format that is experiencing amazing growth, and it represents the music industry's last, best hope: the old-fashioned vinyl record." [Again, cue the sound of tonearm skidding across a record, because you just can't use that baby enough.] "That's right, according to Soundscan, vinyl records experienced a remarkable 14% growth in sales last year." [At this point, be sure to neglect to mention that they still accounted for less than 1% of total album sales in 2010.] "And it's not just weird, aging baby boomers fueling this spectacular growth, it's weird young kids too."

[Cut to a socially maladjusted looking kid in a record store.]

Kid: "Vinyl is like cool and stuff. And it sounds way better than CD or MP3, it's, like, warm. MP3 isn't even really music. I hate MP3. And I hate the kids at my school. I spend all my money on vinyl."

[Cue clicking and popping vinyl noise sound effects.]

Reporter: "Vinyl's true believers say that the abhorrent noise that all sane people jettisoned the moment the CD hit the market is part of the 'special warmth' that makes it so appealing to them."

[Cut to a picture of a record spinning on a Crosley all-in-one record player that you can buy at Bed Bath & Beyond for $50 ($40 if you remembered your 20% off coupon) while Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" plays in the background.]

Reporter: "Yes, in today's high-tech, hurry-up world, the losers who are falling behind are finding comfort in the nostalgic glow of noisy records."

Anchor: "Thank you Sacha. Tomorrow night, we document the extreme psychological duress of Wall Street C.E.O's who are unfairly being asked to give back their bonus money after crashing the world's economy."

Okay, I exaggerate a little. But check out the NPR story, it's actually quite good.

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