When Urban Outfitters came out last week about being the No. 1 retailer of vinyl in the world, we took the admission with a grain of salt. And tequilla. Lots of it. New reports posted by Billboard recently suggest otherwise, however, and have us musing about the record setting sales of wax in recent years and where it goes from here.
Dear America, we’re too hip for our own good. Stop it! We’re making it so that nobody can have nice things anymore.
It’s no secret that when some trends drop in on culture they quickly spiral into a cliché monstrosity, and before anyone realizes, there are millions of us doing, acting, singing or wearing the same exact thing as the next, rendering entire groups indiscernible from one another. It’s one of the great unknowns of human interaction. Where one obscure and seemingly arbitrary phenomenon catches fire, others quickly fizzle into poor-me mediocrity.
So when the current record buying craze came to the cultural crossroad a few years back, many people felt like it was just far too hip of a thing to do. Those who scoured the depths of Ebay for old record crates were vehemently mocked while they pillaged basements to dust off mom and pop’s old Pioneer PL-71 record player. In the digital age of immediacy, the archaic medium seemed burdensome, pointless and most of all, hipster as fuck.
But just like the hippies of the ‘60s and the punks of the ‘80s, the idiosyncrasies of anti-establishment groups hold a certain flare of attraction. It’s cool to be unique. It’s admired. “When I grow up, I want to be different, just like everyone else,” some often joke, unaware of how subconsciously driven and socially appropriate it is.
It’s why we have 30-year-olds jumping on chopped out motorcycles pretending to be an outlawish gang in fashionable regions of the country and why the tattoo industry grows exponentially month-to-month. Because when something is finally socially accepted and de-tabooed, it’s ok. When it’s ok, everyone wants to do it.
Not really surprising then are the sales numbers released by Nielsen Entertainment & Billboard’s 2014 Mid-Year Music Industry Report this past summer. Neither is the rampant clawing of corporations to get their greedy claws into a quickly growing opportunity of return either. Record sales are up, way up, and we think that we have nostalgia-driven hipsters both to thank, and to condemn because of it.
In the Nielsen & Billboard’s report, David Bakula, SVP Nielsen Entertainment says that on-demand type streaming services surpassed over 70 billion songs in the first six months of 2014 and “continues to be an increasingly significant portion of the music industry.” He says streaming expectedly saw an increase of 42 percent from the previous year, but Vinyl LPs, surprisingly, were up a little over 40 percent.
There were approximately 6 million vinyl albums sold in 2013 and now comprise nearly 3.5 percent of all album sales. Ten years ago, vinyl was only 0.2 percent.
“Vinyl LP’s 40 percent increase over last year’s record-setting pace shows interest in buying and consuming music continues to be robust, with two very distinct segments of the industry expanding substantially,” Bakula adds.
A big part of those vinyl sales is because of Urban Outfitters, says the store’s Chief Administrative Officer Calvin Hollinger. During a meeting with Urban analysts he even went as far as to claim that,” … in fact, we are the world’s No. 1 vinyl seller.”
“Hold on to your $30 socks Urban Outfitters,” said everyone on the Internet. Hell may be on its way to chilling out a little, but it hasn’t completely frozen over. Hollinger’s remark appeared distorted to anyone with even a little love for vinyl, and the frenzy quickly escalated online as reports were shared on social media.
In response to quell the concerns over the virally heated issue, Billboard countered Urban Outfitters reaching assertion in an article posted yesterday morning. It refutes the trendy clothing store’s “fact” and gave numerical support to what we all were kind of thinking anyways: Amazon has the meat of the record share. Amazon has the meat of every share.
According to Billboard Magazine:
(Our) analysis shows that Amazon is the largest seller of vinyl in the U.S., with about 12.3% market share, followed by Urban Outfitters with 8.1% market share. Rounding out the top five retail accounts selling vinyl, the next-largest is Hastings Entertainment with 2.8% of the market; Hot Topic with 2.4%; and Trans World Entertainment with 2.2%. Accounts like Audiophile, Acoustic Sounds and Newbury Comics each have market shares between 1.5% and 2%.
Keep in mind, these numbers only reflect new album sales, and don’t account for used vinyl, which is virtually sold only at independent retailers (and online) at places such as our friendly local outlets Wax Trax, Twist & Shout Records, Albums on the Hill and Angelo’s CDs & More.
Showing how hot the old-school method is, other behemoths plan on jumping toward the trend’s back and riding the assumption of profit. Places like Guitar Center, Barnes & Noble, Target and … get this … Whole Foods all have campaigns rolling out to either begin testing vinyl sales in select markets, or going forward completely with the medium while the come-uppins are still good.
We wonder though: Is having something as fulfilling and timeless as records trendy again really all that bad of a concept? Does it matter that large corporations are going to be the obvious leaders of sales in the industry? Do communities need to put more focus on things like Record Store Day, where consumers are asked to support locally ran independent retailers of vinyl each year on April 18? Is it even a trend that will continue?
We’re not at liberty to say, only because we haven’t a clue. Neither do experts, neither do sales projections and neither do you. Marketing analysts can give all the lip service they want about having a god-like grasp on the future, but the reality is that trends have a erratic way of approaching culture, and the next big thing is probably already in the works by a few unique individuals who are being chastised because of it.
That’s not to say that listening to a record isn’t an entirely different experience than listening to the same album digitally and that it doesn’t play a factor in their popularity. Etching tunes on wax and having the experience more labor intensive is a way to garner attention from the listener and can provoke artists into creating more of a seamless and enjoyable album, rather than just focus on the downloadable singles.
At least people are buying music, even if it is from large retailers and not the local niche boutique. We hate to say it, but we think record stores may have done this to themselves. Being cool for so long, then dropping off, but then coming back again was probably to the detriment of the industry. Styles and trends get bastardized faster than the Denver-metro area is building up shotty apartment buildings under a guise of luxury. Smaller retailers may have just been too cool for their own good.
It isn’t any wonder then that records are now a thing. It’s hip. It’s nostalgic. It’s even a brand new amazement for others born in the digital era. “Physical music?” some millennials probably muse. It goes to show that some trends may forever be timeless, even if the trenches of corporate warfare continue to fill themselves up with expendable incomes of childless tweens.
But it’s always a good thing to keep in mind when shopping for music that: Where an album is bought makes a big difference in how the actual artist(s) get paid. Large retailers usually don’t work directly with talent, and buy loads of inventory in boxes that have numbers attached to them, not actual people or feelings or unpaid labor hours. We’re not here to tell you where to shop, or if saving smaller record stores is even plausible and beneficial; but we will say that smart shopping is baller shopping.
And if you’re interested in a box full of cassette tapes, we’ll unload the one we have in the office closet on you for $100. Don’t ask, and don’t laugh, a comeback can happen. Be the revolutionary!
words by Brian Frederick