Records' Retro Revenge

Digital media distribution may be a killer trend for the music business, but even in this era of MP3s, vinyl albums -- and turntables! -- are making a comeback.

According to The New York Times, as of late November, vinyl record sales had increased 35% year over year. This surge isn't restricted to obscure record shops catering to discriminating hipsters. Ultra-mainstream Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) is selling vinyl albums and turntables, too. (Granted, some of the latter devices are just docks for iPods.)

Services like Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes need not fret. The vinyl records sold in 2009 represent a tiny 1% of all album sales -- and CD sales still stink.

Music heavyweights Apple, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , Warner Music (NYSE: WMG  ) , and Sirius XM (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) have either played a part in music industry disruption, or been affected by it. A nascent vinyl comeback won't require them to rethink their digital strategies. But it's nonetheless interesting that some young people are attracted to vinyl by elements many of us fondly remember as old-school cool, like liner notes and album art. Apple, among others, is trying to recreate these extras in digital form via its iTunes LP format.

What do you think of this retro turn? Give us a shout (or just reminisce -- I know I'm proud of my old vinyl collection) in the comment boxes below.

Apple, Amazon.com, and Best Buy are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Best Buy is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy never skips, warps, or scratches.


Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2009, at 11:35 AM, TMFMitten wrote:

    I dumped most of my vinyl the last time I moved, and I wish I hadn't. CDs may sound crystal clear, but they lack the warmth of analog recordings. That's one reason I still don't own an MP3 player -- digital music already sounds cold; *compressed* digital music mixes cold with crud. No, thanks!

    I'm happy to see the appeal of analog coming back -- I actually always preferred cassettes for their portability and durability, but I'll settle for a vinyl revolution. :)

    -- Adrian, who bought "A Rush of Blood to the Head" at Best Buy on vinyl a few weeks ago

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2009, at 12:33 PM, jamf92 wrote:

    I bought a new record player as soon as my first son was born. I have iPod and MP3 players but there is something inviting about putting on an old vinyl and hearing the scratches, lack of perfect quality, inability to have it auto-repeat. It's not for everybody but those that get it, get it. Now he is 3 years old and every night we pick out new record and and dance away to it for hours. I've shown him how to pick songs on my iPod but he runs back to the record and spins that old vinyl. Love me some vinyl!

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2009, at 1:45 PM, PhulishMortal wrote:

    I still have all my old vinyl, but I never play it. I lived through the days of breaking out the DiscWasher before putting the record on the turntable, and I remember the advent of digital recording. Most of us who were present from the outset never looked back. Vinyl is great, but I'll take a CD any day. The "warmth" people hear on vinyl (and they really do hear it -- I remember Peter Gabriel's once lamenting the lack of it on the early CDs) is simply a form of distortion. Any producer can duplicate it -- and whatever else he might want -- to whatever degree is desired. In short, it is easier to have a finished product sound however you want it to sound than it ever has been.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2009, at 2:08 PM, TMFMitten wrote:

    That warmth is more than just distortion, though. Since an analog recording is a continuous waveform identical to the original input, it's naturally going to sound more authentic than something that's been sampled and turned into a series of 1s and 0s. With digital, you never get the entire waveform -- you just get multiple samples of it. I'm no audio geek, but I think that's what makes it sound rather sterile. Sure, digital sounds pristine, but it can miss a lot of subtle nuances.

    But then I've been told I have dog ears, so take it for what it's worth. :)

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2009, at 2:20 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    DiscWasher! Oh I had forgotten that!! And I have to add, while I am proud of what comprised my vinyl record collection... that unfortunately, most of it is in storage with my mom (yipes!) and some of the really good stuff met an untimely demise when it spent too much time in the sunlight in the back of a friend's car way back in the day (I had lent it out). Sooo... yeah, I haven't actually listened to any of my vinyl in ages (and have a lot of that stuff digitally now). AND, another problem with vinyl is how it can be damaged so easily and isn't exactly portable. ;)

    That said though... I really do have a whole lot of nostalgia for the medium. And maybe one day will buy a turntable again and get my vinyl out of storage. :) For the warmth and crackle that you guys are discussing. :)

    Oh and remember when some would etch messages into the very inner ring of the records themselves? (Maybe that was just the underground stuff I listened to, ha.) So it seemed sort of like "secret" messages when you'd look at the record? Cool. :)

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2009, at 1:51 AM, dgmennie wrote:

    Overlooked by most everyone in the rush to digitize everything musical is the inherent ARCHIVAL VALUE of analog recordings, particularly records. The technology is extremely simple and easy to comprehend and maintain by the average person. Records pressed 75 and 100 years ago can still be listened to today and even enjoyed.

    What "digital" format used even 15 or 20 years ago can still be accessed today by anyone except a technology geek armed with unsupported software and rapidly aging (if not already totally useless) hardware to run it on?

    How do you, oh lover of the CD and iPod download, figure you will listen to ANYTHING AT ALL of your music collection 10 years hence when the digital formats have all changed yet again, perhaps several times over? You will just LOVE paying for every song you like over and over and over, right? And what about those obscure (but great) tunes that nobody will ever bother to offer in a digital format? Just forget about 'em. Those who own vinyl don't have these problems. And never will.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2009, at 1:55 AM, dgmennie wrote:

    Overlooked by most everyone in the rush to digitize everything musical is the inherent ARCHIVAL VALUE of analog recordings, particularly records. The technology is extremely simple and easy to comprehend and maintain by the average person. Records pressed 75 and 100 years ago can still be listened to today and even enjoyed.

    What "digital" format used even 15 or 20 years ago can still be accessed today by anyone except a technology geek armed with unsupported software and rapidly aging (if not already totally useless) hardware to run it on?

    How do you, oh lover of the CD and iPod download, figure you will listen to ANYTHING AT ALL of your music collection 10 years hence when the digital formats have all changed yet again, perhaps several times over? You will just LOVE paying for every song you like over and over and over, right? And what about those obscure (but great) tunes that nobody will ever bother to offer in a digital format? Just forget about 'em. Those who own vinyl don't have these problems. And never will.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2009, at 10:47 AM, manish718 wrote:

    Vinyl and digital music will always continue to co-exist and be complementary. Our company, Furnace MFG, manufacturers vinyl records. We press the records in Europe, ship them to Fairfax, VA and then do all the QC, assembly, and packaging here.

    What we're finding is that almost every record we press includes either a digital download card or a CD of the same music.

    As a format, vinyl never died, it was just not supported by the labels. For a variety of reasons, that tide is now shifting where it's becoming part of the overall strategy for re-issues as well as new releases. Going into 2010, we expect continued growth. Not necessarily at the torrid rate of the last few years, but certainly positive growth. We expect vinyl sales to continue to grow for the next few years and then stabilize to a sustainable level.

    For anyone interested in learning about how vinyl records are actually made, our facebook page has a ton of great content on it (facebook.com/furnacemfg).

    We're glad to be part of the movement to bring this awesome format back!

    - Manish Naik, COO, Furnace MFG

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2009, at 4:41 AM, sooperdj wrote:

    I've been a DJ since 1983, I have over 8000 vinyl records in my collection. I always loved the warm sound of vinyl compared to digital. There is nothing like the experience of putting a needle on a new vinyl record. The feel, the smell, the sound! It's the best. The only advantage the digital crap has is price and portability, along with easy duplication. DJ's today have it easy, not having to invest alot of money for a music collection. Unfortunately, the digital age makes alot of people think they can be a DJ too. Just my two cents.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2009, at 8:48 PM, krazycanuck wrote:

    Viva le vinyl

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