It looks like all those Record Store Days might have paid off: According to a new industry report, vinyl record sales in 2012 hit their highest point since 1997 — you know, the same year Radiohead released â€śOK Computerâ€ť and Hansonâ€™s â€śMMMBopâ€ť topped the charts.
The report, published by the quaintly-named International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, tallies $171 million in global vinyl sales in 2012, up 52 percent from the year before. That echoes other reports, including Nielsenâ€™s most recent Soundscan, which have found strong growth in vinyl sales over the past five years — not to mention a steady uptick in vinyl-related Kickstarters and analog fan blogs.
The reason for the resurgence varies, depending whom you ask. Thereâ€™s no argument that vinyl, with its grooves and pops and imperfections, sounds a lot different (some would say better) than the digitally-sampled perfection of MP3s and CDs. CDs do, for the record, still exist, though at roughly half the volume they did five years ago.
It also probably helps that independent record stores and labels have, since 2008, made a concentrated effort to market vinyl. Every third Saturday of April, labels offer limited-edition vinyl records at some 700 independent stores. The event has morphed into something of a cultural phenomenon, and independent stores have, per Nielsen, seen a gain in sales.
Many labels have also begun promoting records in other ways: packaging them with MP3 download codes, for instance, or selling them as part of collectors’ bundles.
But the real reason for the digital-age popularity of such a distinctly analog item might lie right there, in that weird conceptual divide between â€śrealâ€ť things and the less tangible, more transient virtual ones: books and e-books, newspapers and Web sites, records and MP3s. Since the virtual things are only getting more popular — digital album sales rose 15 percent last year, and Pandora just hit 200 million users — the backlash seems reasonable.
â€śThe most pure form of music is on vinyl. Period. Absolutely,â€ť D.C.-bred songwriter Benjy Ferree told the Postâ€™s David Malitz in 2009. â€śVinyl is a hardback book … I don’t like the idea that I can’t see it or feel it.â€ť
You can decide if Ferree and his fellow vinyl fans are purist audiophiles, as they claim, or nostalgia fetishists looking for a high-fidelity fix.