It’s a question that’s hovered over the introduction of every new format. Is the artistry of the album still significant in an age that encourages the short-sharp single? Does the urgency of the instantaneous download ring the death knell against the cohesion and complexity of a full-length LP?
‘Absolutely not’ would be, and has always been, vinyl’s dogged response. Besides, it’s a format that’s kept on spinning, even as each shiny, new innovation that comes along decries its validity in a torrent of hype that is eventually proven to be nothing more than a fad (MiniDisc anyone?).
With the steady decline in CD sales (and cassette tapes, no great loss), and conversely the surging increase of digital music’s dominance, vinyl could well become the last bastion of the beloved album format.
We previously reported how digital sales outstripped physical sales for the first time in the UK. With figures released by the British music industry’s official body, BPI, showing that digital revenue accounted for 55.5% of income in the first three months of the year, therefore overtaking physical sales for the first recorded time.
Despite these numbers, there is a physical format that is steadily holding against the digital revolution, and its one of music’s oldest: vinyl.
There may have been a steady decline in CD sale,s but the popularity of vinyl is uniformly up.In the UK, the Official Charts Company reports that vinyl record sales are experiencing their highest figures in six years with a 55% increase. In the US, market researchers Nielsen, show a similar spike – with a reported 1.1 million increase in units from 2010 to 2011.
Closer to home, ARIA’s own figure-tracking from last year reveals that vinyl sales are up 13% despite the wholesale value of the music industry declined by 0.34% from 2011.
The Age today reported on the state of vinyl ‘getting its groove back’ with not only a feature on Zenith Records owner Chris Moss, who operates the last functional vinyl record factory in Australia; but also an article on vinyl’s national resurgence against a climate of dwindling physical sales and surging digital revenue.
The latter in particular provided a handy chart from ARIA collating figures from the last twenty-odd years of record sales
The results reveal an interesting trend in that while downloads of individual tracks has spike sharply in the last decade or so, digital downloads of albums are barely above that of vinyl’s meagre – yet consistent sales since the CD boom of the late eighties.
Once gain bringing to the fore the question that’s plagued every generation when a new format is introduced. Is this the sounding of the knell for the album format?
Has vinyl become the last bastion of the album? The art of listening to a record start-to-finish in the way that it was designed by its musical creators has been given ever since music was first committed to wax. But the encroaching popularity of digital means of dissemination signals warning bells once again for the act of sitting down and actually listening to a record.
In the very same Age article, Clayton Pegus, co-owner of Melbourne’s Polyester Records, claims it’s this exact ritual that the format encourages, “It’s all about listening to an album from start to finish,” he says.
While Synergy Audio Visual managing director, Phil Sawyer, tells the paper that a boost in music listening habits from the 25-35 age group relies on vinyl’s artistic edge. “They enjoy the sound, the time spent in playing a record and the interaction with the music and the album art,” Sawyer says.