JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Cassettes are dead. CDs are dying. Eight-tracks were barely ever alive. But through one music revolution after another, vinyl records have continued spinning, and the medium is finding a resurgence among young and older listeners alike.
“I think it’s just kind of rebelling against the digital music – and the ready-availability of music,” said Drew McKercher, owner of Morningbell Records & Studios in Jackson.
His store sold out of record players days before Christmas, mirroring strong sales trends nationwide. Even as sales of CDs plummet – down 14.4 percent through the first nine months of 2012 – and sales of digital music rise – up 15.3 percent – vinyl has found its own niche in a consumer market that has been spurning physical media in virtually all other forms.
Vinyl record sales rose 16.3 percent through the first three quarters of 2012, putting it on pace for a seventh straight year of growing sales. For perspective, 2011 saw 3.5 million vinyl records sold, compared to just 857,000 in 2005, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales. CDs were still the top medium at 129.7 million albums sold, but digital sales, at 85.5 million in 2011, are catching up fast.
The reasons for the vinyl crescendo? That varies by consumer. Audiophiles, the industry’s term for those who care deeply about audio quality, have long maintained that vinyl offers music in its purest form.
Others may argue in favor of CDs, but with the advent of compressed mp3s, audiophiles are turning back to vinyl for a purer listening experience. An average music listener may not detect much of a quality difference – particularly when they listen to most of their music on tiny computer speakers or through earbuds.
The difference in quality is real; your typical mp3 file is a fraction of the size of the same file on CD, and to the well-tuned ear, nuance can
be lost in the compression.
Vinyl is also stylish among certain sets of young music fans – hipsters, certainly, and non-hipsters who share many of the same interests. For many in this group – some of whom kind of always wanted to be John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, or to work at Empire Records – vinyl is just cool, in the way that retro things often become trendy to future generations.
Others like to collect it; vinyl albums offer bigger cover artwork and booklets with song lyrics and photos, and new records usually come with a free digital download of the album, so they can still listen to their music on the go.
Most of the more than 25 record players Morningbell sold after Black Friday were the small, portable players that ran around $100. These wouldn’t appeal to the staunchest of audiophiles – the built-in speakers are tiny – but they make a good starter table for a vinyl newbie.
McKercher’s top sellers are new indie rock and hip-hop, but used albums from classic artists, like The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, also fly off the shelves. Of course, vinyl isn’t for everyone. It’s costly – as much as two or three times what you’d pay for the same album on mp3. It’s not portable like mp3s are and flipping a record at the halfway mark can be a chore.
Maybe that’s the point. Vinyl is more intimate. “I think people are getting back into the ceremony of taking the vinyl out and putting it on,” McKercher said. “It’s more of an event than putting on your iPod.”