Vinyl is Back, Right?

Photograph: (e)Spry / Creative Commons / CC BY 2.0

From the eye-catching cover art to the clumsy 12-inch disc and from the scratching needle to the crystal-clear sound from the record player, for long, the vinyl experience seemed a relic from the past, but as of 2020, the LP has made a genuine comeback.

For the first time since 1986, vinyl LP records have outsold CD’s in the USA, figures from the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) reveal. The impact of analog music sales on the music industry, however, remains limited.

Over 85% of all music sales come from streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube and these global conglomerates show no signs of slowing down. Therefore, it’s difficult to say what place there is for vinyl in the ever-changing landscape of modern music.

The LP record was the vehicle of choice for pop music from the fifties until well into the eighties, but after the introduction of the Compact Disc (CD), LP record sales gradually dropped. By the end of the century, the CD had completely taken over the market and the age of vinyl appeared to be over. A vinyl revival, however, from 2007 onward, spurred by nostalgia, a hipster interest for vintage, and the desire to own tangible music, has now driven vinyl popularity to its highest point in decades.

“We first noticed that vinyl was going up again in 2009 and after a while it really started to get serious. In hindsight, I can say that the return of vinyl has ensured that we still exist,” record store owner Michel Weber, from Plato, states about the renewed interest.

This positive impulse, however, reaches further than just his own store, Weber believes: “vinyl secured us, but I certainly think that it also caused a revival in all of the music industry. Not like it was before, but it’s definitely a boost.”

Not everybody is convinced, however: “I do notice that artists are increasingly interested in printing vinyl records, but the standard format nowadays is MP3, to put on Spotify and there is not a lot of money in streams. Whenever artists do make LP’s, distribution numbers are generally small,” independent Record Label owner Gerjan Kelder from Clay Records says.

While it is still unclear where vinyl will go in the 21st century, the fate of the CD seems a little less uncertain. CD sales were already dropping before the vinyl revival, due to the rise of (illegal) digital downloading and they have continued to plummet in recent years, with numbers dropping 45% in the last year alone, according to the RIAA.

Although both Kelder and Weber agree that the small silver disc seems to be paying the price for the revival of the larger vinyl variation, they don’t think the CD will disappear completely. Weber: “Vinyl never completely disappeared either. There will always be a niche market for the enthusiasts and collectors. We now even see that the cassette is making a comeback.” 

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