Monday, January 14, 2008

"The table's turned: Big 12-inchers thrill new generation of music fans"

from - By Jed Gottlieb

Digital downloads have found an unlikely ally in their increasingly successful war on the CD: the old-fashioned vinyl record.

Those same big, black discs the CD all but killed off in the '90s are the only music format other than digital predicted to see a sales increase in 2008. While nowhere near digital's 2007 54 percent sales increase, no-longer-dormant vinyl sales jumped more than 15 percent last year. CDs' slump continued with a 19 percent decline.

Locally, vinyl's comeback has managed to outpace the national trend. Newbury Comics reported an astounding 37 percent spike in new vinyl sales in 2007.

Wayne Rogers, owner of Harvard Square's Twisted Village, says sales of new releases are as strong on vinyl as on CD at his specialty record shop. At Planet Records, a Harvard Square used music store, owner John Damroth says the vinyl LP business is brisker than it's been in a decade.

"Around 1998 the vinyl market fell right off a cliff," Damroth said from behind a counter crowded with piles of unmarked stock. "Then, maybe three years ago, things started back. Yesterday, 25 percent of my business was used vinyl. The younger age group is getting into it to get good deals buying stuff like Journey and Loverboy. Then you've got the hip factor.

"I'll hear kids come in and say, 'Oh, cool. Look, man, vinyl.' 'But dude, you don't even have a record player.' 'I know, but . . .' Inevitably, they'll walk out with a stack of everything from Aerosmith to ZZ Top."

Damroth also sees his own baby boomer generation getting back to their first love. People reared on bold, beautiful Santana LPs are finding fragile iPods and flimsy earbuds no replacement for reclining in a big, brown puffy chair and dropping a needle in a groove.

And the industry is noticing.

Still less than 1 percent of total music sales reported by Nielsen SoundScan - digital accounts for 10 percent, CDs for 89 percent - vinyl is no longer being ignored by bands, labels and retailers.

In October, Amazon debuted a vinyl-only store to compete with its recently launched download store. Artists from Linkin Park and the Killers to Modest Mouse and My Morning Jacket are giving their albums the deluxe vinyl treatment. Issued as pricy 180-gram, double-vinyl, gatefold LPs (as opposed to the standard 120-gram single LP most bands released during the format's heyday), these new albums can cost more than $20: pricey for buyers and not cheap to produce, but a lot more lucrative than having kids steal your whole catalog off a bit-torrent site.

Vinyl's only challenge is a lack of pressing plants; only about a dozen remain in the United States. But Europe, where the vinyl comeback started earlier, may be able to help with U.S. demand.

"Early last year I was on tour in Europe with my band, and no one wanted to buy our CDs," said Twisted Village's Rogers, who plays guitar with local rockers Major Stars. "The CDs were just packing peanuts for all the vinyl we sold."

When asked why he, his fans and his customers are opting for vinyl over CDs, Rogers' answer is simple: "Because CDs are an awful format that can't die fast enough."

Rogers may have his wish soon enough. With music shifting toward iPod shuffle-small and double-vinyl big, fewer and fewer fans seem happy with the humdrum middle ground CDs offer.

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