BY MARK MATHOSIAN
On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, I noticed the number of vinyl record albums in the music and videos department had mushroomed. I decided to find out why, so I made arrangements to interview Jason Dill, assistant store manager. Jason gave me the lowdown on the resurgence of vinyl.
Jason said that in the past, if you wanted to buy a vinyl record you had to special order it, and there weren’t many choices even if you wanted one. CDs and music streaming were the most popular music formats and 33 1/3 RPM long playing records were mostly a thing of the past. However, all that changed about three years ago when demand picked up for vinyl records. He said, “We started carrying a slim selection, maybe up to 100 choices. Today we normally stock over a thousand titles.” One factor for the success of album sales is the abundance of new portable and tabletop record players that sound good and are reasonably priced. For example, as I write this article, Crosley offers 29 different phonographs retailing for $89 to $399, with the average price falling somewhere in-between. Interestingly, Crosley also sells records on-line, including The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift and many more popular artists. These records retail for $14.95 to over $20.00, depending on the artist and how elaborate the album package is. Also, Crosley is not the only company manufacturing turntables. Familiar names like Audio Technica, Jenson, and Victrola also make phonographs designed for the casual listener and the sophisticated audiophile who demands the very best from their audio gear. Many big box stores carry phonographs in their inventory, and as the old cliché goes, there is something for everyone.
If you are wondering who is buying all the records and breathing new life into vinyl, the answer may surprise you. It is not the Baby Boomers who grew up with vinyl. It is mostly the Millennials, those of us between 25-35 years old born in the 1980s through the early 2000s, also known as Generation Y. According to industry experts, 50% of all vinyl customers are 35 or younger, and about only 18% of record sales are to 45-54 year-olds. Are the Millennials seeking nostalgia? Well, sort of. However, there is more to it.
Jason noted that Millennials try hard to be hip and while nostalgia plays a little role, the fact is, Millennials are seeking an alternative to streaming and downloading music onto cell phones and MP players. Records and phonographs fill their desire to be different and creative. Today’s records are also much nicer than those of the past. “They are a much better quality, thicker and more durable than in the past, and don’t scratch as easy,” said Jason. He also pointed out that they come in cool colors and shapes, including square, with some records having images imprinted onto the vinyl during the manufacturing process.
While I was in the store the first album cover that caught my attention was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It had a see through jacket with a photograph of Michael pressed directly onto the face of the record. It was very cool. Jason also said today’s records simply “sound better.” Customers tell him the sound from records is warmer and cleaner than CDs or downloaded songs. What I learned on-line is that warmth refers to the “lack of cleanness and perfection.” The flaws inherent in analog sound production are actually appealing. Another observation is that vinyl provides a more immersive experience.
Here’s another interesting fact about the resurgence of vinyl. According to MusicWatch, a company dedicated to marketing research and industry analysis for the music and entertainment industry, about 62% of all vinyl records purchased today are used. That means you can sell your vintage records on the secondary market. There are a few used bookstores and antique stores around town where you can buy or sell used records. However, no matter what you decide to do with your records, my suggestion is that you dust them off and give them a spin. Vinyl is undeniably back.