Fred Mills: About All That “Vinyl Explosion” News

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Amazon reports massive increase in vinyl sales, and meanwhile, both Whole Foods and Target are experimenting with vinyl sales. What gives?

 By Fred Mills, Blurt Editor

 If you were listening to NPR’s weekly Sound Opinions broadcast this weekend your ears might’ve perked up when you heard them commenting on some reason news items about vinyl sales. This is something we think about a lot at BLURT; our sister business is Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, NC, and while CD sales continue their inexorable slide, vinyl has been steadily increasing—both new and used. So check this headline over at The Verge:

 “Amazon Vinyl Sales Up 745 Percent Since 2008, But It Won’t Save Music: Vinyl sales are up big industry-wide, but still represent a tiny sliver of overall sales.” The accompanying story repeats a familiar statistic from the RIAA, that “it saw a sales spike in 2012 of 29 percent,” then takes a look at that 745% number. According to Amazon.com, vinyl is the single fastest-growing music medium for the company. Well, duh. But at the same time, CD sales are dropping (as they are at our store), ditto downloads, and vinyl still only represents about 2% of the music industry’s revenue. So that outsized percentage in the headline is somewhat misleading, because it in no way suggests that the music industry has suddenly found its shining knight to rescue it from declining revenue during the digital era.

And now for something completely different….

We apologize for that digression. Still, vinyl is projected to grow to 5.5 million this year, and apparently retailers other than Amazon are sensing a sales opportunity, even if it’s a relatively small opp compared to, say, smartphones. Anyone who’s strolled through the entertainment/media section of Target recently may have noticed a select handful of vinyl LPs on display—titles like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon, the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s and, er, Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits. Granted, that’s not particularly impressive in and of itself; though Best Buy’s music department has been steadily shrinking as the chain makes more room for… drumroll, please… smartphones, they’ve been stocking selected vinyl new releases for years.

 But when the news got out last month about Whole Foods testing the waters with vinyl sales at five of its Cali stores, it was hard not to feel somewhat awestruck. Seriously—Whole Foods? Stuck between the coffee beans and pita chips no doubt are the Frank Sinatra, Bob Marley, Rolling Stones, Paramore, CCR, Tegan & Sara and Daft Punk LPs.

 And of course Urban Outfitters is marketing “tons and tons of vinyl” both from its website and in many of their stores (at premium prices, mind you, as one glance at the chain’s website will prove).

 So we don’t know whether to weep (because of all the sudden competition our mom & pop indie store now has) or celebrate (because vinyl is still cool and a lot of people are discovering it for the first time). It’s probably too early to tell if we’ve jumped a shark, reached a tipping point, or have stumbled into the first stages of End Times….

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