Hard wax makes a 52% increase, notches 6% of all album receipts, and officially becomes the trend du jour of hipsters across the land.
By Uncle Blurt
Everybody around here knows that yer ol’ Uncle is kinda nutty for vinyl, having grown up with it; I can report in all candor that I have never owned an MP3 player of any sort and that while I do download occasionally, it is almost always live recordings and bootlegs. So it cheered my greying grey matter to learn that Nielsen SoundScan data for 2014 arrived earlier this week, and amidst all the hoo-hah over the seventy billion copies of 1989 that Taylor Swift sold plus accompanying media over-scrutiny of Sam Smith (who?), the Frozen soundtrack and Pharrell Williams’ best-selling song “Sappy,” er, I mean “Happy,” that vinyl records topped the 9.2 million mark in U.S. sales, which represents a 52% increase over last year.
According to the Wall Street Journal, that in turn represents 6% of total album sales. That may not seem like a whopping amount, but placed in the immediate context of shifting consumer habits and the gradual return of indie record stores to the national retail mix, it’s huge.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that vinyl will ever regain its prominence, sales-wise, that it enjoyed back in the ‘70s and ‘80s (think: Frampton Comes Alive, Saturday Night Fever and Thriller). Nor does it suggest, as some cynics would have it, that we’re currently in a vinyl bubble of sorts; vinyl never really went away, even at the height of MP3 and earbud mania, it just went underground, and out of all those teens who have just discovered vinyl, thereby making it the hipster trend du jour, we’re guaranteed that a hefty percentage will continue to prize vinyl long after a lot of their peers have moved on to, I dunno, collecting old Betamax tapes or something.
Meanwhile, good news for streaming services such as Spotify and bad news for retailers in the download business: downloads dropped a little, from 1.26 billion hits in 2013 to 1.1 billion in 2014, while streaming jumped even more than vinyl, from 106 billion individual track streams in 2013 to a whopping 164 billion in 2014 — a 54% surge. Buh-bye, shitty-sounding li’l compressed MP3s.
1. The convenience and portability of streaming is going to ensure that it’s here to stay and will probably continue to rise. What this means for the iPod and higher-end digital players like Neil Young’s much-heralded Pono player (pictured above) I don’t know. But you haven’t heard much about Pono lately, now, have you? Other than the news that it will finally hit stores next week, and that the Pono Store has officially launched for folks who want to pay an arm and a leg for a digital download. (Ever notice how much “pono” looks like “porno” if you are skimming the text on a website?)
The only people regularly talking about digital players are audiophile magazines and websites catering to those who are willing to plop down a thousand clams or more for a player that provides truly hi-res digital audio quality. It actually may be too early to get into a conversation about that new $1,119.00 digital iteration of Sony’s Walkman ZX2 (pictured below) just announced this week. I will say, though, that I still own a Walkman pro, the same cassette deck that I used to bootleg concerts with back in the day, so I am willing to entertain offers from people looking to get on the Walkman bandwagon and grab a genuine museum piece…)
2. Vinyl sales – accompanied by audio gear sales, especially turntables, ‘cos ya gotta have the hardware to play the software – will continue to rise for a spell, eventually plateau, then settle in as a comfortable, attractive and, yes, profitable music format and delivery systems. We’ll also see more and more cool gimmicks like colored vinyl and shaped picture discs just like in the late ‘70s, all aimed at the collector geeks and hardcore fans out there, along with more and more reissues of classic wax and maybe even the mainstreaming of deluxe – and way expensive – vinyl box sets.
3. I will continue to geek out on vinyl. Hell, just yesterday I freaked out at the news of that colored vinyl, limited-to-500 copies, of Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. I pre-ordered my copy just as the door was slamming shut and the damn thing was sold out. Whew…
Postscript: you can toss all those CDs now, kids. Nobody’s gonna want them in a few years, not even you – in fact, a lot of music stores have already stopped taking them in trade. See below for the pile of unloved promos we have accumulated over the past couple of years: it’s a photo of our back office (known otherwise as “the dumpster”).