In case there was any doubt in your mind, vinyl is officially back. The week of April 21, 244,000 LPs were sold. Not downloads, not streams, not even CDs. Good ol’ fashioned records, artwork, and all. Of course, it’s worth noting that that was including Record Store Day, which falls on April 20 of each year and has become and increasingly important event with each passing year. On the day, independent record shops the world over celebrate their offerings, host in shop concerts, have assorted contests and giveaways, and artists of every ilk release limited editions available only at indie record shops.
Many artists even turn up for impromptu signings, gigs, and simply to hang out with fans and shop owners. The increase in vinyl sales seems to be larger than Record Store Day, though, as sales have been on the upswing for several consecutive years, now. Vinyl album sales in 2012 were at their highest since 1997, having closed the year at $177 million (approx. ￡115 million) according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI.
As for the United States; according the Nielsen Soundscan, 4.6 million LPs were sold in the States last year. With each new release, it’s becoming the norm again to have a vinyl issue, and perhaps even a few incarnations of said vinyl issue. As with every shift in cultural dynamics, good must come with the bad. Thirty years ago when everyone had a record collection, not only did every town have at least one record store, you could head to any mass market (AKA big box) retailer and buy a record by an artist, provided it was a fairly mainstream artist.
This time around, it’s a bit more complicated. Of course, there is now a certain degree of cache that accompanies going to an indie record shop and picking up a release by an artist who isn’t yet a household name, but gone are the days of buying an LP on whim when you run out to pick up some toothpaste. While this is great for the small record shop owners (who absolutely should get all of this business) it also makes it difficult for those in areas without record shops who would love the chance to make an impulse buy, but instead, have to wait until they have the chance to drive to a shop in a nearby town (provided they have one) or until they can shop online.
Feature film company Blue Hippo Media released a documentary in September of 2012 about “ the rise, fall, and rebirth of the independent record shop.” Based on the book of the same name, the film talks to high profile artists such as Johnny Marr, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, and Nerina Pallot, as well as record shop owners. They reflect on the importance of record shops; not simply as stores, but as veritable anthropological and sociological necessities.
While the music industry may not be enjoying the overabundance and excess it saw in the 80’s and 90’s, the good news is that people are definitely spending money on music; more than they have in a long time. Many music lovers assumed the days of physical media were long gone but it seems they were wrong. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I for one am elated that big artwork and double sided liner notes are back. The best part of a new record was always reading the album credits, finding out about the producer and the engineer, reading the ‘thank yous,’ and looking for recognizable names.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the increase in sales will see more record shops opening up again or if people will remain skittish, remembering all too well the five hundred record shops that have closed in recent years. It will also be interesting to see what the sales figures for 2013 will look like, as week after week the numbers keep climbing. Do keep supporting your local record shops in any ways possible, and try to talk to them about ‘Last Shop Standing.’ Perhaps they can host a screening or viewing party in your area!