In the past, I’ve offered critical assessment of whether or not LP sales were on the rise, and detailed a few reasons why I personally prefer LPs to compact discs or MP3s. I’ve approached the topic of the comeback of the LP with a fair amount of caution, because it’s near and dear to my heart, and also because I didn’t want to read too much into a temporary sales blip that felt like a trend. But with the recent news that LP sales have tripled every year since 2006, it’s time to put away my healthy skepticism and embrace some of the reasons why the LP continues to find new fans:
1] LPs are tactile goods. With the direction that music is headed, it’s instructive to remember that people like to buy stuff they can wrap their hands around. For some, the convenience of digital formats will win out, but buying an MP3 is about as exciting as buying car insurance. LPs, meanwhile, have real heft to them and feel like they’ve been crafted and built to last, unlike cheap, disposable compact discs or a format (MP3) that can be lost forever in the blink of an eye.
2] More retail space is being devoted to vinyl. This is a bit of the chicken-and-egg (are LP sales driving shelf space, or vice-versa?), but there’s no question that as increased retail space is given over to LPs, they become less of a niche and more of a mainstream option for buyers. A friend in Chicago recently told me that Laurie’s Planet Of Sound is now dedicating a significant portion of their store footprint to LPs, and as more stores move in that direction, more LPs will move out the door.
3] A bad economy is a good climate for record collectors. I hate to say it, but it’s true – when people are out of work, they have more time to browse dollar bins and flea markets, and more incentive to save money on music. On the other side of the coin, record collectors in need of a quick buck are more likely to part with their collections, meaning more records are coming into circulation daily. So even though an economic downturn is never desirable, it’s a perfect storm for crate diggers – one that creates more buyers and sellers of LPs.
4] Modern music sounds good on LP. You can argue with the premise that analog sounds better than digital music, but pure sound quality is beside the point here. There are so many modern bands – Fleet Foxes, White Stripes, M. Ward, Vetiver and even LCD Soundsystem, for example – who are so influenced by vintage styles that their music sounds right at home on LP. I’ve been looking forward to hearing the new Black Keys album on vinyl – the idea of listening to it on CD strikes me as the absurd equivalent of reading a handwritten letter with a microscope. Those electronica albums will play great on LP, but all your throwback, blues and folk-based stuff will sound just like it should.
5] LPs can be instant collector’s items. Even with the recent surge in sales, it’s rare for any LP to be produced in a batch larger than 25,000. Which means that if you don’t buy an album within a month of its release, you can either forget about it or shell out on eBay for the privilege of ownership. Additional touches, like colored (or clear) vinyl printed in numbered runs, only add to the LPs aura of something that is lasting and worth owning. And with more people buying LPs all the time, the limited edition albums purchased over the last decade seem sure to hold some value well into the future…