Earlier this month, Nielsen reported that vinyl sales rose a semi-staggering 40 percent over 2013 to 4 million in the first half of this year. At the same time, digital tracks and album (CDs) sales have fallen. In fact, vinyl is the only medium where sales grew.
That's pretty surprising. Keep in mind that the LP vinyl record was introduced to the world more than 60 years ago.
So, why is this happening? Who's buying vinyl all of a sudden? And what are music stores doing in response to this trend? Well, luckily, I had the chance to talk with the Electric Fetus' manager Bob Fuchs on the subject and he had some great insights -- including how to get your own setup going.
First things first, have you noticed this spike in vinyl sales?
Oh yeah, we've seen a big increase. I'm not sure if it's 40 percent yet for this year, not sure if that'll play out … but I think since '08, we've seen almost 200 percent increase, almost tripled in sales here. Some years, we've seen 40 percent, some 30, some 20, so we've seen some big growth.
What has the Fetus done in response to the growing popularity?
Of course I've given it more floor space. I've more than doubled the bin space. I went from 15 bins [and] I'm almost nearer to 40 now in the last five years. I'm adding five more this summer.
We've also started to carry more of the stuff that supports the vinyl business, i.e. we're selling more turntables, carrying more turntables. We've got some more audio equipment and became an authorized Onkyo dealership, so we have receivers and we're carrying some speakers and nicer headphones.
We do a vinyl happy hour every Tuesday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday is new release day, so a lot of people are coming in to buy their new releases anyways, so I thought this was a great way to reward them for buying new releases. For every $20 you buy in new, you get $5 free for used.
Who's buying vinyl? Is it a diverse demographic?
It is now. The DJs never went away from it and some of the hardcore collectors always kept at it, but I mean of course new records weren't being released for most new releases at that time. So it was kind of the under-25, maybe the under-30 crowd kind of brought it back. It seemed to be a reaction to digital, which was a little lacking for some. Since then, all these other bands are releasing their new releases on LP now, so it's brought all kinds of people back in the fold.
Why are people buying vinyl? Are there certain benefits over other options?
I've thought about this for years, why people want records versus any other thing. Digital is easy and we all use it, but vinyl is still the premium cultural artifact of music. It's of a human scale. A CD is great … but they are smaller, the artwork is smaller and an LP is a combination of many artistic mediums: writing -- i.e. lyrics, you've got photography, you've got artwork, you've got the music itself of course and even the packaging now on these things can be gorgeous – the papers they use and the cardboards they use. The first thing that's always triggered in my brain is the album cover or artwork … it connects with people on multiple levels.
I'm a novice when it comes to vinyl, having grown up with tapes/CDs … but are there certain types of vinyl that's most popular?
There are. Traditionally we still sell a lot of the standard 12-inch 33 1/3, but some people put out 10-inch records, which is really fun. 45s have become very popular again.
What kinds of artists sell the most vinyl?
It's getting broader, but it started a few years ago with a lot of the indie rock stuff seemed to do the best. You know, your Animal Collective would fly out the door. Grizzly Bear and Radiohead and [etc.] would do very well. Now it's broadening out.
For a newbie who wants to get into vinyl, how do you suggest getting started?
It depends. A lot of people are inheriting a turntable or stereo from their parents or friends.
They just have to get some gear. But then it can get really easy. There is a lot of affordable vinyl out there.
The key, the big key, is getting a decent turntable – one that won't ruin your records. I mean, there are a lot of cheap turntables on the market and it can quite frankly cheapen your experience. If you buy one of those budget players for $60 or $70, you're not gonna have a good experience. They're going to break and they're going to ruin your records. So, buying a decent, entry-level turntable is the single biggest and best thing a person can do.
Vinyl is perishable if your setup is wrong. If the setup is right, it can play records for hundreds of times and hear no sonic degradation.
Lastly, what's the future for vinyl?
I think it's pretty solid. People have suggested that it's just a blip, a trend that will go away. But what we are seeing is that so many people are investing in the infrastructure. They're buying a nice receiver, speakers and a nice turntable and there's a lot of vinyl out there and they're supporting that. The support is so strong across multiple demographics that I think it's pretty solid.
I don't see this as a blip. You're not going to see 40 percent increases every year, you're just probably not. There are people who will find vinyl too inconvenient to haul around or listen to or use. We are a convenience-oriented society. But I think that it'll be more solid than the naysayers say. We're seeing a lot of people who have been plugging down some money on some equipment and they're in it for the long haul.
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