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Dust off the old turntable and throw on that Steely Dan LP. Wax is back.
In an ironic twist of the times, CDs are being squeezed off store shelves in order to accommodate the growing demand for vinyl records.
Give credit to the hipster movement or perhaps a renewed desire for top-quality listening -- either way, bands, record companies, and sellers are all on board with the throwback format.
In 2011, LP sales grew 40% year over year. This past year, according to Nielsen Soundscan, record sales are up another 11% over 2011. As stated in a recent New York Times article, LP sales are slated to hit 5.5 million sales this year -- another 20% gain.
For a technology that is older than most of its customers, vinyl's comeback is a trend that investors may want to take notice of. And while there aren't any pure-play opportunities to profit off the LP revival, astute investors can learn a few things by reading between the lines.
You won't believe who's pushing LPs these days
It's a sign of the times that 6% of sales of Electronica juggernaut Daft Punk's new album, Random Access Memories, was from sales of the LP version.
As far as distribution for records goes, no problem. Some well-known public companies are serving platters to the masses.
Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ: URBN ) caught the trend early and has been adding to its record collections. The stores feature entire vinyl sections now, as well as record players for first-time buyers.
Much more surprising is that beleaguered electronics retailer Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) has gotten in on the action. These days, it's selling records right alongside its (declining) CD racks.
Realistically, though, investing in either company based on the vinyl renaissance isn't much of a thesis -- the products still represent a very small portion of overall sales and likely won't budge the needle meaningfully.
Of course, there are the small presses, which are pressing records at full capacity to keep up with demand. Brooklyn Phono, for example, puts out more than 400,000 LPs per year and shows no signs of slowing. But there's no way to invest in this pure play short of knocking on the door and handing over a check. (That is not advised.)
So what's an opportunistic investor to do?
Stay tuned... and dial it back
The biggest takeaway for investors is that it's important to keep an eye on the industries you follow -- to reconsider your investment theses whenever a quick-moving trend moves in.
It may be a while before we can tell if records really (re-)catch on. Much care and effort goes into procuring, listening to, and maintaining a record. (Not to mention dusting off those milk crates filled with albums.) The listener doesn't just throw on whatever and skip tracks that don't immediately satisfy the senses -- s/he is in it for the long haul.
So far the masses are still tuning in to the the ever-growing list of streaming radio services, such as Pandora (NYSE: P ) , Spotify, and iTunes.
While these services are great for their convenience and cost, they don't offer much of an experience to listeners -- or a bargain for investors. Right now you'll pay a hefty premium for shares of Pandora (currently 56 times projected earnings).
For investors and music lovers wanting to take action, the best move for the time being may simply be to press "pause."
Given the plethora of competing options, and a retro trend with serious momentum, technology-oriented music may not be the greatest investment at this time. But at least you've got a reason to dust off the old phonograph and be reminded just how sweet it vinyl sounds and why it will never die.
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