There is good news for analog audiophiles.
For the first time since the 1980s, vinyl record album sales have surpassed the sale of compact discs. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, for the first half of 2020, sales of vinyl albums accounted for $232.1 million in revenue as compared with CDs, which sold $129.9 million.
Sales of vinyl records have been on the rise since 2005 while CD revenues are down 48% so far in 2020. That being said, physical sales are down across the board thanks to COVID-19. We all long for the coming days when we can load up for a concert road trip or a casual visit to our favorite record store.
Meanwhile, streaming music continues to dominate with 85% of revenue for the music industry coming from compressed digital files. Services such as Spotify and Apple Music have pushed music industry sales to $5.7 billion the first half of 2020, a 5.6% increase over the same period last year.
While I certainly appreciate being able to sample and stream using Spotify, there’s no part of that process that can match the experience of having a collection of vinyl to enjoy. There are m￼any who would agree with me and that number is increasing.
Somewhere deep down inside of me I have a fantasy of a retirement gig — something like “Paul’s Record Shop” or “The Vinyl Frontier.” My record store would be safe space for browsing. You could stop in on a Thursday afternoon or a Saturday morning and enjoy the fine art of perusing — flipping through bins of vinyl — just like the good old days.
For me, flipping through records is a cathartic, calming, get-back-in-touch-with-my-youth experience. If you haven’t done it in a while, you should find a place to try it.
The first thing that will strike you is how much fantastic art is associated with vinyl. We lost that once cassettes came into play with the introduction of the Sony Walkman in the summer of 1979. While I appreciated the convenience of being able to fast forward or rewind cassette tapes (especially compared to the nightmare that was the eight-track tape), we lost the blank canvas that was the album cover. CDs didn’t really improve on that space much.
For me, album covers help define time.
For many of us, we stared at album covers (front and back) for hour upon hour as records were spinning. We read liner notes. We looked at fold-outs of double albums and bonus posters that sometimes came with our purchase.
I remember the bright yellow album cover with purple lettering on The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced?” album. That color of yellow is burned into my memory. The back cover is a warning of the experience the listener is about to have once the needle is placed on wax. That combination of colors and text is lost in a digital world.
Author David Giles teaches psychology at the University of Winchester. Giles told “Consequence of Sound” that the actual physical presence of our vinyl collection “can serve as a cultural autobiography showcasing the very best and the very worst of our taste and judgment.” Giles says that sometimes our choices “make us cringe but they are still part of who we are and how far we’ve come.”
I, for one, am thankful for the chance to recover a collection of vinyl that started in the mid 1970s. This time, no promise of a digital utopia will convince me to sell them or give them away.
We won’t get fooled again.