To vinyl or not to vinyl

Alive and well?

Vinyl has enjoyed an increasing popularity in the past 10 years. For a select group of music consumers it is the choice of media to buy music on, but producing vinyl is not a cheap exercise, so does it still make sense for labels to be doing?

There are two types of people who buy vinyl. There are the DJs who still enjoy the feeling of spinning real records beneath their fingers, and the record collectors.

Generally DJs will buy 12” singles, with two to four, and at times only one track on a record. This route puts a severe limitation on the music that a DJ can carry and play. With digital delivery services becoming better, and the increase in availability (and reduction in price) of Digital DJing Systems, more DJs are taking this route.

The other group is an older generation, who are looking for vinyl albums from very specific and less mainstream genres. There are record labels which cater specifically to this group of listeners and know that they can sell records to their fanbase.

So is it worth producing records for these two groups? Vinyl is undoubtedly more difficult to pirate than digital music, though not so much so that people do not do it. While there are labels which only release their music on vinyl as an anti piracy measure, this tactic does risk digital sales; there certainly are people who are willing to take the time to rip the vinyl to digital, and other, formats. A quick glance over file sharing and torrent sites is enough to prove this, and every download of a pirated digital file is the loss of a potential sale.

The connoisseurs of rare grooves, being of an older generation, are not likely to pirate. They are the kind of people who will buy their records in a local store, rather than a multinational company because they want to support the independents, and the industry. As long as the music is available to buy on vinyl, they will do so.

For a label to make profit on sales, it needs to produce and sell a minimum of 1000 records. Declining 12” single sales are making this an impossibility. Vinyl album sales are still strong, in the UK alone they went up by 5% last year to the highest numbers of the decade, and 33% in the US.

The days of vinyl singles are very quickly coming to a close. But album sales are still looking strong, and they look set to continue to rise, indicating a shift in the buyer base. The retro image that vinyl has garnered has undoubtedly helped this, and all the evidence points to this trend continuing.

One Comment on “To vinyl or not to vinyl”

  • “Every download of a pirated digital file is the loss of a potential sale.”

    Or, the creation of one or more potential sales. Though you often hear the claim that a pirated album is equivalent to the loss of a sale of that album, that’s actually not true. Most people who download music illegally download more than they would ever otherwise buy, and for all we know, as a result of downloading so much music, they may also buy more music. The more music they’re exposed to, the more they like, and the more they choose to own in a physical format.

    In fact, there’s an argument that this is where the potential profits might lie for record companies, and particularly niche or cult labels. People who buy music because they want the physical format also want a physical format worth buying – special packaging; liner notes and photography; extra tracks, etc etc etc. And they’ll be willing to pay more for a special object.

    There’s a great article here on the current state of the music industry as it relates to sales and pirating, and it’s really eye-opening:

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