In November, vinyl sales outsold digital music sales.
By Charlie Catmull
For the first time ever in the UK, on Monday 28th Nov. 2016, vinyl sales outsold digital music sales, and this got me thinking: is vinyl here to stay? Or is this simply a peak as it becomes a routine Christmas gift? (an alternative to the classic socks, or Lynx Africa gift set). For a long time, vinyl was pretty much a non-contender, with no new albums on vinyl and big entertainment retailers such as HMV not stocking it – in contrast to even Tesco (!) stocking it now.
In the mid-noughties music downloads became the primary form of consumption, taking over from CD as consumers became realised how quickly, cheaply, and easily they could digest, and excrete, their music of choice. Does the change of fate for vinyl in recent years, overcoming even the digital download, signify a shift in what the consumer wants and looks for when deciding how they own music? Instead of an exchange of bytes, people now seem to want the physical object to hold. Perhaps this new-found attraction to the old format can be attributed to the artwork on the LP cover, and the ability to display the objects. Perhaps it’s the simple nostalgia experienced by those who experienced vinyl’s first dominance, and those enjoying the knowledge that they are experiencing music in its original sale format. These positives, however, don’t necessarily define vinyl as a format that is here to stay.
I may own a few albums on vinyl myself, but the downfalls that will prevent it from reaching past popularity are clear: these include the cost, with newer LPs costing from £15 to £20, the equipment needed to play, such as the turntable, amp, pre-amp, speakers, and needles, all in addition to the lack of portability. Carrying around a 12″ collection just isn’t possible, sadly enough for the vinyl start-up investing hipsters.
Music downloads and, to some degree CD’s, will continue to be most people’s favourite format. Walking is always going to be better with that perfect soundtrack in your ears, impossible with vinyl. But for true vinyl enthusiasts, there is a lot of reward – the sound quality compared to the compression of mp3’s is a huge improvement and about as close to the real thing as you can get, the sound waves literally engraved into that sweet black plastic.
I could go on, but The Founder is sadly not a novel. Vinyl will always be the go-to format for audiophiles looking for something more human and physical than the download. These people will always keep vinyl sales alive, especially with a new generation introduced to them by the current buzz. And, of course, there will always be those who view vinyl as a novelty due to its downfalls in this modern age. But, really, the sheer availability and variability of music is a beautiful thing for all of us.
Featured image of Resident Records, Brighton, courtesy of Vinyl Factory