R.I.P. Vinyl records?

When was the last time you actually bought an album? No, not downloaded some pirated version, nor something digital through iTunes or Amazon, but a real, physical, stick-it-in-a-CD-player album. Yeah, it’s probably been a while. You’re not the only one; in the first half of this year sales were down 17.7%. Cassette tape sales are essentially non-existent. Digital album sales have just this year hit their first downward trend. Single track downloads have not only stalled, they’ve hit a 0.2% decline. All signs point to a serious flatline in music purchases.

There’s another music format out there – vinyl. The last decade has seen a massive flux of nostalgia, and the musical frisbees are just one example. So how are the sales doing? No better than anything else. During 2008, 1.88 million units moved in the U.S, a massive 89.9% increase. 2009 saw more movement at 2.5 million units sold, but the increase was only 33%. In the first half of 2010 compared to the same span of time last year, there has only been a 9.1% increase.

90 percent to a potential 18 percent in two years is what economic statisticians call a bad sign. If products don’t continue to grow, their value to companies evaporates. Given, that ’08 upsurge data is a bit skewed due to the fact that vinyl was considered passé until the mid-aughts, with shipments not even breaching the million mark in ’06.

The question might be is this really even a problem? An increase is an increase, after all. This is true, but when sales begin to flatten out at marginally insignificant numbers, the validity of the product comes into question. General album sales, including CDs, LPs, and digital downloads, reached 373.9 million in 2009, with digital sales eating up a whooping 76.4 million of those. In juxtaposition, vinyl’s 1.3 million so far this year seems paltry.

So perhaps it’s true that vinyl’s popular resurgence is reaching an apex. Whether that means record companies will abandon the format as they did in the ‘80s is yet to be seen. Does this mean you should take ‘turntable’ off your holiday gift list? As always, the decision and the power really lies with you, the consumer. Audiophiles swear by the dinner-plate-sized format, and bands are always glad to find a solid income source. If you want this platform to stick around, then it’s up to you and your wallet. Though as our source Digital Music News all too accurately points out, “no matter how distinctive and collectible, LPs are still competing with free.”


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