November 8, 2007
Vinyl and MP3 vs CDs
Occasionally I come across articles like this one, which talk about the return of vinyl as a force for music sales and another "nail in the coffin" of the much-criticised CD.
Oh, come on! It's a crock!
Look at all the sources talking up the vinyl thing in that article. What do they have in common? They are all from indie labels trying to differentiate themselves from the others to gain traction in the marketplace (except for the guy who owns the "country's largest record pressing plant"). The statement "And now demand for vinyl is on the rise. Pressing plants that were already at capacity are staying there, while others are cranking out more records than they did last year in order to keep pace with demand" is not supported by any evidence at all ... it's just asserted. Crap journalism!
The history of technology tells us something very important here - a technological discontinuity brings a substitution effect that is almost never total, and almost always irreversible. (There are still people who prefer horses to tractors.) In other words, the "Golden-eared audiophiles" and DJs will keep buying vinyl (which is why these guys are talking it up!), so it will be a small and lucrative niche, particularly for certain types of recordings, but the vast majority of music sales will remain digital. Like yo-yos, vinyl will fade into and out of fashion in terms of their place on newspaper (or news website!) pages and that's as much as vinyl can expect. News is about what's NOT normal. Talking up vinyl in the digital age is going to be de rigeur for the occasional news hack trying to make a mark ...
Look at the reasons CDs came to dominate: more portable, more robust, easier to maintain - more *convenient*. None of that has changed. Look at the reasons vinyl albums are preferred: "superior" sound quality (not in my experience, BTW - I can never get past the static and scratches), better physical experience via larger artwork, etc. Has any of that changed? No! But was it enough to stop CDs from taking over? No.
What's changed? Major label CD sales are down - Derek's data tell us this does NOT include all CDs. What else? There's a surge in the number of small-to-medium indie labels looking for traction in the market. Uh-huuuh ... Sales of turntables (analog and digital) are up. Guess what? Sales of ALL instruments are up (http://www.futureofmusicbook.com/2007/02/06/the-tail-wags-the-dog/)! What are people gonna put on those turntables ... ?
Radiohead released their new album in all three formats with a strictly limited edition of vinyl ... wonder why they limited that? Probably because they know there's a demand from a small number of hard-core fans who will pay what it's worth to make the vinyl available. Doing some market research by offering it on a pre-order basis was very clever in terms of managing demand and supply. But I would think that if you have a fan base of less than, say 100,000, it will NOT be viable to press vinyl. Good luck to The Society of Rockets transporting their vinyl to gigs and trying to sell them.Posted by Hughie at November 8, 2007 9:36 AM