“The LP will be around for a good long while,” Patricia Heimers, a spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), told the Associated Press in 1989. Ms Heimers’ prediction may then have seemed tin-eared. Sales of cassettes and CDs already far outstripped those of 12-inch glossy black platters. In the 1990s vinyl almost vanished altogether. In 2005 a mere $14m-worth of records were sold in America. But like an ageing rocker, vinyl is making a comeback. In the first half of this year, the RIAA says, sales reached $224m, up by 13% year on year. In 2019 as a whole they should reach $500m and exceed those of CDs for the first time since 1986.
Even so, vinyl still accounts for only 4% of the market for recorded music. Sales of CDs have been declining fast. These days paid-for streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music, bring in 62% of the industry’s revenue—which is in turn less than half of what it was 20 years ago in inflation-adjusted terms, despite a recent improvement.
Whether it is merely a farewell tour or something more durable, vinyl’s revival owes something to nostalgia. In 2018 The Beatles sold more than 300,000 records. David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Queen all sold more than 100,000. But there may be more to it than that. Its adherents have long claimed that it yields a richer sound that digital usurpers, and it seems younger fans are also learning to love the LP. In 2016 nearly half of British vinyl-buyers were 35 or younger, according to ICM, a pollster; only 18% were aged between 45 and 54. Doug Putnam, a 30-something Canadian vinyl enthusiast, has bought HMV, a struggling British high-street music chain. Each HMV shop now stocks 3,000 to 7,000 albums, up from an average of 500 in the past few years.
Vinyl addicts may even want to make their own records. This month Florian Kaps, an Austrian entrepreneur, unveiled the Phonocut, a device capable of pressing custom 10-inch records with 10-15 minutes of audio on each side. The company says it will start shipping its machines in December 2020. The price of your own mini-studio: €999 ($1,100).
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