Vinyl’s got its groove back. Last year sales hit a 25-year high and in the UK vinyl sales beat digital downloads for the first time. Together with sales of turntables, the vinyl industry is projected to be worth a billion dollars by end of year. According to a sales rep at Alliance Entertainment, a distributor of home entertainment products in the US, sales of audio cassettes are on the rise too.
And’s not just music that is seeing a revival as its physical format. Amazon Books is a brick and mortar stores to sell books popular on Amazon.com and sales of printed books in the US are up for the third year in a row as sales of ebooks decline.
What’s leading to this renewed interest?
A recent piece in the New York Times about the rise in sales of printed books suggests that: “Analog, although more cumbersome and costly than its digital equivalents, provides a richness of experience that is unparalleled with anything delivered through a screen. People are buying books because a book engages nearly all of their senses, from the smell of the paper and glue to the sight of the cover design and weight of the pages read, the sound of those sheets turning, and even the subtle taste of the ink on your fingertips. A book can be bought and sold, given and received, and displayed on a shelf for anyone to see. It can start conversations and cultivate romances.”
Maybe this upswing is driven by nostalgia. A look at the best selling vinyl albums from the last week support the idea that sales might be coming from older consumers who grew up on vinyl and printed books. Amongst the top 25 reported by Nielsen Music are The Beatles, Beck, Pink Floyd, Prince and Sinatra. But that’s not the whole story.
But not so fast, Batman: it’s younger folk too. The list also includes artists like Coverage, Brand New, Courtney Barnett / Kurt Vile, Sleep On It, War On Drugs, Kendrick Lamar, Kesha, Sam Smith and Julien Baker. And data from Facebook Audience Insights tells us that a third of the fans of these artists are under 24 years old and over two-thirds are under 34.
Research from eBay suggests a large number of vinyl enthusiasts are buying it for the first time. One in four 18–24 year olds said they had bought a vinyl record in the last year, which is a big number for a generation that grew up on digital downloads and streaming.
The eBay research identified buyers as younger digital natives who have a passion for collecting and like “showing off” book, DVD/Blu-rays, CDs, vinyl records, or video games. About a quarter of this group buys books to display them as social-media “shelfies.”
And maybe that’s what’s at the crux of the revival. Not the desire for authentic experiences as suggested by the New York Times article, but rather a desire to appear authentic.
According to a BBC survey, half the people who buy vinyl records never intend to play them and 7% don’t even own a record player. The search for truly authentic products— that includes craft brews, small batch productions and curated experiences — sometimes has a ring of inauthenticity about it.
Does a coffee from a single bush grown in the Chanchamayo region of Peru really taste any better than a regular cup of joe, or does it make us appear more discerning? According to many taste tests pitting premium coffee agains the mass market brew, often the cheaper stuff wins.
And do vinyl records sound any better than the alternatives? In tests CD’s often win over vinyl recordings – they just don’t look as good on the shelf. As for books, you might not be able to judge it by its cover but sometimes we hope other people will judge book buyers that way.