It was a dark time for the music industry last week. It took only 71,000 copies of Toby Keith’s Bullets In a Gun to top the Billboard 200 chart — no other record, since Nielsen Soundscan bean tracking data in 1991, has debuted in the No. 11 spot with such low numbers.
It’s proof, once again, the more people are turning to digital and leaving the physical product behind.
Or is it?
While CD sales continue to slide, people are scooping up more vinyl records than they have in years. In the States last year, 2.5 million LPs were sold, up 33 per cent from the year before. Vinyl sales actually grew at twice the rate of digital sales.
Of course, a couple million records is nothing compared to the 374 million CDs that were sold in 2009 or the 1.16 billion songs that found their way from paid sites onto people’s computers.
But the rise in vinyl sales tells us something — people still care about the package. I’m one of those LP buyers. While it’s easier and more convenient to hold thousands of songs on an iPhone, nothing beats opening a record for the first time.
First of all, there’s the artwork. The fact that designers have a much larger space to work with usually produces better work. The bright images, the detailed book-like liner notes — while there are some beautiful CD packages, it’s much easier to find stunning graphics in vinyl products.
Then there’s the act of listening to the record itself. I’m more invested in listening to an album when I have to flip it over. I’m forced to pay attention and the artist, in theory, has to make every song worth listening to, otherwise I won’t play the second half.
I’ve always wondered why the traditional music industry doesn’t actively promote vinyl. It may not save them, but maybe an aggressive push, and a free download offer with every LP bought, would help bring more bucks to their bottom line. Record players are cheaper and more durable than they once were, plus people can purchase used ones that are still in good shape.
Maybe, like the mobile industry, the music world should give away or significantly discount record players so more people would buy records.
That push probably won’t happen, but with LP sales going up every year, it’s not time to usher in the death of the physical album just yet.