Vinyl: It’s Still Growing

They say that when everyone’s hip to a trend, it’s no longer hip. That’s why I was surprised when I walked into L.A.’s Amoeba Music a couple of months ago and saw that not only were their offerings of vinyl records growing, they’d added a large display of turntables and accessories — including a mega-groovy spiral-patterned Amoeba Music turntable mat. I figured Amoeba’s hipster/music geek clientele might have moved on to a new trend, but no.

According to floor manager Daniel Tures, vinyl sales are still increasing. “It has gone way up, especially in the past two years,” he said. He also reported some surprising trends in the growing and evolving vinyl biz.

I assumed that many, perhaps most, of the vinyl shoppers at Amoeba would be DJs, but according to Tures that era is closing. “The biggest sellers in vinyl used to be 12-inch dance records, but the DJs are abandoning vinyl,” he said. “Being a DJ means you have to transport your whole music collection, and your albums get lost, stolen or damaged when you’re hauling them around a lot. It’s way easier to show up at a club with a laptop. And it makes you look uncool if you’re carrying around heavy boxes and sweating a lot.”

So who’s buying vinyl these days? According to Tures, it’s “the people who were buying CDs.” He says that while it might seem that most of the customers are young people getting into vinyl for the first time, the vinyl racks also attract a good number of customers who are old enough to have lived through vinyl’s heyday in the 1960s and ’70s.

Having visited Amoeba often during the last decade to pick through the jazz vinyl racks, I of course thought that many of the vinyl shoppers would be like me: fuddy-duddies looking for records by Oscar Peterson or Maria Callas. Wrong again. “It’s mostly rock, soul, and oldies,” Tures said.

“People don’t want the CD anymore,” he continued. “They just want the MP3 and the vinyl. A lot of times they’ll convert the vinyl to MP3.”

Tures said that while used vinyl sales are the strongest, mainly because the used titles are inexpensive, “New vinyl sales have made a more dramatic climb. It’s up something like 25 percent in the last year. Record labels are realizing that rock listeners want vinyl. There are so many new titles coming out on vinyl that walking into the vinyl section now feels almost like walking into the CD section.” Asked to name the top-selling recent new vinyl titles, Tures hesitated for a moment—“There are so many!” he said—then noted that “we keep running out of the new Tom Waits album” and that the recent reissues by The Smiths are also selling well on vinyl.

So why is a format that’s more than 100 years old growing when sales of CDs are falling off a cliff? “When you want to sit down and listen to your favorite music, vinyl is the best choice,” Tures said. “It’s truer to the music, truer to the original vision of the artist. For many people, it’s now the format of choice.”

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