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CMU Beef Of The Week #335: Vinyl v Downloads

By | Published on Friday 9 December 2016

Wayne's World 2

Cassandra: Let me show you what I got at a garage sale. Isn’t that great? Heard of it?

Wayne: Exsqueeze me? Have I ever seen this before? Everybody has ‘Frampton Comes Alive’. If you lived in the suburbs, you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.

Cassandra: Look at this old one. Gerry And The Pacemakers.

Wayne: That is old. I bet those guys actually have pacemakers by now.

Cassandra: Can you believe they don’t make vinyl anymore? It’s weird, isn’t it?

Wayne: That is weird.

Cassandra: Bobby said my album won’t be vinyl.

Wayne: Bobby says… Are you and Bobby having an affair?

An exchange there from the classic 1993 movie ‘Wayne’s World 2’. Oh yes. And you know what, I remember thinking at the time, “yes Cassandra, it is weird that they don’t make vinyl anymore”. And sad. Real sad. Though having just invested in a CD player in 1993, I was also part of the problem. I too was shunning the classic recorded music format for shiny discs. But maybe I was just moving with the times. Vinyl was dead and yet life goes on.

Except vinyl wasn’t dead, was it? It wasn’t even true that vinyl production had ceased completely by the early 1990s, it had just become an ever more niche product presumed to be on its way out. But it’ll be dead soon we all thought. Dead, dead, dead. How wrong were we? DATs and downloads are the future they said. But oh no, it’s all about the vinyl revival.

Some reckon that Brexit was an attack by the older generation on the younger generation. So perhaps the vinyl revival is a kind of retaliation by The Kids. They can’t stop their parents from inflicted ever more insular politics on the world, but they can bloody well stop vinyl from slipping into the history books.

Granddad forced a Trump presidency on you, but hey Granddad, look at this twelve-inch record I just bought. Ha, you thought you’d killed this format off, didn’t you? Of course the long-term economic chaos caused by 2016’s political events probably means The Kids will never be able to afford a piece of vinyl ever gain. But it’s a victory of sorts.

Anyway, all this nonsense has been prompted by news from the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association this week that vinyl sales recently outperformed download sales. During one week. It was only a small difference, but vinyl took £2.4 million in those seven days, while downloads brought in £2.1 million.

“This is yet further evidence of the ability of music fans to surprise us all”, says ERA chief Kim Bayley. “It’s not so long ago that the digital download was meant to be the future. Few would have predicted that an album format, first invented in 1948 and based on stamping a groove into a piece of plastic, would now be outselling it in 2016”.

Yeah, that’s right, the vinyl record has completely taken over the music market from your new fangled downloads. That’s “downloads” by the way, not “digital downloads”. The death of that latter phrase will be the best thing to come out of the eventual complete demise of the download market. Though, of course, spoilsports like, well, us mainly, insist on qualifying ERA’s announcement.

First things first, let’s note that the retail trade group’s fun stat tells us a lot more about the tanking download market than the vinyl revival. Download sales have been in steep decline for a while now of course as the streaming market booms, something Bayley’s quote forgets to mention. So it’s streams that have bashed download sales sufficiently into the ground that vinyl income seems impressive by comparison.

Also, of course, it’s December. This is always a good month for physical product, because – and scientists will be back me up on this – you can’t wrap an MP3 file. Not even an AAC file. One of the reasons CD sales have stayed more buoyant than you might expect is it’s much more fun to gift something physical, and the same applies for vinyl. “Here you go son, I bought you something you can’t play, but look how physical it is. And what about that Brexit hey! Good times”.

And then, finally, it’s worth noting price point. Arguably from an industry perspective, the key thing about the vinyl revival isn’t so much how many vinyl records are being sold, but how much you can get away with selling them for. The biggest selling vinyl release of the week this stat stems from was Kate Bush’s ‘Before The Dawn’ live album, which retails at £52. That certainly helped vinyl outperform downloads in terms of revenue despite the fact the number of units shifted vinyl-to-digital was 120,000 v 295,000.

But hey, vinyl revival, woo! Take that Mr Download, with your stupid convenience-over-authentic-listening-experience mentality. We’ve seen the future, and it’s black and round.