A technology thought to be obsolete only 10 years ago is making a surprising comeback. Like the fountain pen and the film camera, the vinyl phonograph record was thought to be a thing of the past. But not so, says Steve Gritzan, who owns a store called Iris Records in Jersey City, New Jersey and runs seven record shows across the eastern United States.
“It's a glorious time for people who like records,” he said.
There are numbers to back him up on that. According to Digital Music News, it’s projected that 5.8 million vinyl records will be sold in the United States this year. That’s up from one million in 2007. It’s still a small segment of the music business. According to Billboard
magazine, two percent of all the albums sold today are on vinyl. But while the sales of CDs are falling, sales of vinyl records are up 33 percent this year.
“Everybody releases on vinyl,” Gritzan said. “All the new indie rock groups, whether it's Bell & Sebastian, whether it's the Hold Steady, whether it's Foxygen, whether it's Washed Out. All these groups are hot, new and young. They release their work on vinyl and they also include a free download.”
And that’s in addition to artists who reach an older crowd - who you might expect to be releasing their music on vinyl.
“When Paul Simon puts out a new record, he puts out a record,” said Gritzan. “There are not enough pressing plants to produce the amount of records that are desired.”
Companies like Gotta Groove Records, which started in 2009, are stepping in to help fill the gap.
“It certainly is not just us that's seeing the explosive growth,” said Matt Early, the company’s Vice President for Sales and Marketing. “This is a time in history where the past is coming full circle.”
Gotta Groove founder Vince Slusarz was a lawyer at a plastics company. He’d read about the growing popularity of vinyl records but it wasn’t until the trend literally hit home that he was moved to act.
“I believe it was his daughter who got a turntable for a gift,” Early said. “[She] was listening to records quite a bit more and I think that really made an impression on Vince that, ‘Hey, this is real, young people are buying records and so this is something I should pay attention to.’”
An old vinyl record album on a turntable.
Gotta Groove works mostly for small bands that put out their own records and sell them on-tour. The bulk of the business is geared toward a younger audience. College students are, once again, reading liner notes, appreciating album artwork and grabbing up their parents’ old, unused turn-tables to return to the days of getting up at the end of the record and turning it over.
According to Early, that kind of tangible experience is worth the extra money to younger people today.
“Combining those factors, it just kind of gives a perceived value that spending $20-25 on a record feels like it's worth it vs. spending that same amount of money on a file that you really can't touch or feel,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether this is a passing fad or whether, like the stick shift car or the paperback book, the old turntable and spindle is something that will be with us for a long, long time.