The Vinyl CD and Cassette Revival Now Spinning Magazine

Is The Vinyl / CD / Cassette Revival Built On A House Of Cards?

I need to start this blog by saying that this is not an anti or pro-format article. I’m an avid collector of physical music, (vinyl and CD), I’m also currently listening to my Spotify account as I write this, which I get as part of my mobile / cell contract.

I also don’t want to get bogged down in a “he said, she said” conversation about artists so I’m not going to mention them.

If you don’t watch Phil Aston’s video on the charts, they are a great insight into the world of the charts, it is that I want to build on, from my window into the music business. And it was watching the series of these videos that inspired this blog.

Dutch tulip crisis metaphor

The Dutch tulip bulb market bubble, also known as tulipmania, was one of the most famous market bubbles and crashes of all time. It occurred the Netherlands during the early to mid-1600s, when speculation drove the value of tulip bulbs to extremes. At the market’s peak, the rarest tulip bulbs traded for as much as six times the average person’s annual salary.

People bought tulip bulbs, on the basis that market value will always go up and there was always a buyer will to pay more. I wonder if we are heading that way with vinyl, CDs, cassettes etc.

Some background

Like many music fans, I am on many record company email lists, members of Redit groups and also a member of the Now Spinning group on Facebook. This gives me some insight as to what is happening in the world of physical music.

Looking out across the music industry there are many articles about revivals and sales but is this a true reflection of the physical music world? I would say that physical market sales being propped up by the super-fan and I think we talking ourselves into a false view of the world.

Let’s look at some examples

Let’s take an example, a well-known artist recently issued their album with 4 different coloured vinyl and 4 different covers. For the super fan that meant an outlay of $100, (that is they would buy 4 copies), in the current cost of living crisis a lot of money. Two weeks later the same albums were issued, but signed. The super fan will then make another purchase of these albums.

For the record industry and the charts this registers as 8 sales and we physical collectors pat our backs and convince ourselves that physical sales are back, but will these 8 copies ever be listened to?

A popular band recently issued their greatest hits on cassette. The original greatest hits, plus a special edition for each of the 4 members of the band. Sold in batch of 5, 1,000 were sold out in less than an hour. The recording industry records that as 5,000 sales. But really this is the super fan hoovering up collectibles? Will they be played? I must declare an interest, that I’ve purchased a few cassettes.

Add to this the specials editions. This is where to get that special-coloured vinyl, you have to buy the CD version. Or where the CD has different tracks from the vinyl, so the super fan buys both. Or maybe you want the vinyl house and the CD for the car. Of course, if you still have a CD player in the car. In one car, we have a CD and a cassette player.

When is a sale, really a sale?

If the special edition, has a vinyl, CD and a cassette that is counted as not 1 but 3 sales. And we all pat ourselves on the back (again) and write and read articles that physical sales are increasing, maybe because that’s what we want to hear?

How much is the super fan and special editions propping up the market

Listening to Phil’s assessment of the charts, artists and bands have that first release week and then drop out of the charts. How much is the chart propped up by the coloured vinyl variants, signed copies, special editions?

Why are people buying, really?

Are people buying these because the like a band or for collectability? Are they being listened to or just taking up room? If you purchased all 8 copies in the example above, you ever play them? It reminds me of the saying “if a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody to hear it, did it make a sound?” I wonder, if a vinyl album, or CD or cassette is sold and nobody plays it, was it really a sale?

There are also people buying to profit on eBay or buying as there is a notion that the price of these products will go up. And I assume, they are looking for short term profit, as surely the (majority) of vinyl, CD, cassette lovers are going to the great record shop in the sky. In the long term, the record buying public will shrink.

A cynic might say… the music variant treadmill

A cynic might say that record companies have run a deliberate policy of getting the record buying public to buy and then re-buy their product so they can profit. And why not? They are a business Afterall. And we are just merrily walking their physical music tread mill.

What do I mean? First, we bought vinyl albums, then there were cassettes, even 8 track, then we were told to throw vinyl away and get CDs. Then we were told to throw CDs away and buy downloads. Now we are back to buying vinyl and CDs. When we read that “the Dark side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd as sold zillions of copies, I wonder how many people have purchased it, again, and again, and again over time?

Clearly with the resurgence of new record shops, people are buying. One of my local record shops has just closed, they blamed it on the position of the shop.

Why do we go from here?

Thankfully I’m part of a helpful and supportive Facebook group, that has often been a place to wallow over the last few years where people rejoice in physical music, I just wonder if like the Dutch tulip crisis of, we are talking our way into a fall. But having a community around me, at least I know there are other people just like me, making the same mistakes as me and this is comforting.

Timothy Hughes | Now Spinning Magazine

Editor’s Note

The only thing I would add is the younger demographic who are buying physical formats, and I presume will continue when the classic rock generation pop off!

My youngest son buys a lot of vinyl. 99% of the time by artists I don’t know. Everything is done on his phone, he has no interest in record shops ( or shops in general) if he goes into town it is to meet friends etc. I asked him about the physical only chart which features Queen, ABBA, Fleetwood Mac etc next to Lewis Capaldi etc and asked who is buying these older albums? He response was they were just seen as classic albums you should have. He has little concept of music being old or new. He streams on Spotify and hears stuff on Netflix show soundtracks and just buys what he likes. Phil Aston

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