The Needle and the Damage Done?
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Is the Cost of Vinyl Putting People Off?
MY love for vinyl is endless…
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and something that will remain to my dying day! I have requested a certain record by The Beatles on its true form; if/when I get Amazon vouchers for Christmas – that is also going to go on records, too (Jack White, Beastie Boys and Madonna among them). I can get all spiritual/wanky and say I started my musical ‘journey’ with vinyl – lest I vomit blood at the mere suggestion! – and it was the legends of the 1960s that hooked me into music. I know that would be a lie because my early experiences of music were n cassette and slight less-cool artists. Maybe I am starting to sound like a broken record – maybe I have used this title before – but it is a subject that comes back to my mind every day. I prefer music on vinyl and the way it always was. I will bring in a couple of competing articles that investigate the price of vinyl and whether it is too expensive. There is something unavoidable about records and the price we may. A record itself if a large thing and, with a sleeve and all that physical wonder; something you cannot easily put in your ears or carry around in one hand – unless you want to do yourself an injury! You look at a single L.P. and it is a lot of material you have there! I think people buy vinyl for a number of different reasons. There is the feeling of possession and pride one would not get from a C.D. or digital music.
IN THIS PHOTO: The cover of Antwood's album, Sponsored Content/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
You can buy yourself a record bag/box and store all your L.P.s together. It is fun flicking through them; reading the sleeves and taking that record in hand – feeling all the work that goes into it. You can pick up a C.D. and feel they are quite expensive. Even if you shell out a tenner on a new album – that can seem like a lot of money for something so small and fragile! Vinyl, amazingly, seems more durable and fortified – despite the fact it is a lot older and more basic. We love the community of going to a record shop and standing alongside others; people who have the same passion and curiosity. We all hope we’ll come across that long-forgotten record or a gem we had forgotten about! Even if you buy your vinyl at a multi-national chain; there is the pleasure of browsing the genres and dreaming about a (very) full shopping cart! It is one of those rare pleasures in life: who would deny a true vinyl-head that pleasure?! I guess there is that need to preserve a record and keep it for years; something you can pass onto people and share. I know digital music is the way forward and it seems a lot more affordable than, say, a double-L.P. that might cost you a day’s wages. A lot of people are streaming music and often picking odd songs rather than a full album. Are we burning those who want to appreciate music in a more aesthetic and pure format?!
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With consumers opting for songs rather than complete albums, it makes me wonder whether vinyl is past its time and a relic. That is nonsense but should we see prices go down?! I look in shops like HMV and you can find a vinyl from a current chart act coming in perilously close to £20! I was looking at a couple of articles published last year – during a time when vinyl was starting to come back in and challenge the dominance of electronically-sourced music. NME mooted the fact vinyl might get cheaper:
At the moment, steam is used to heat up the PVC (vinyl) puck, which is then pressed between two large stampers to create the record. The use of steam provides some wear and tear on certain parts, meaning that the stamper can only be used for roughly 1,500-2,000 records before it needs to be replaced.
Sycomen’s new injection moulded technology doesn’t use steam at all. As a result, they claim that the technique will reduce energy costs for manufacturers by 65 percent, due to reduced pressure on the stampers ultimately meaning that machinery will last longer.
As the parts become more durable and maintenance on the machines are reduced, Sycomen reckon that it means that the timeline for pressing records can be reduced from an average of 16 weeks down to two. Essentially, it’s making the whole production flow cheaper and more efficient.
IN THIS PHOTO: The cover of Object Collection's album, It's All True/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
If successful on a large scale, the cost-saving technique will mean that suppliers can meet the surging demand easier and will make the entire production cheaper overall, something which will hopefully be reflected in the retail price of records in your local shop”.
Over in Canada; another article argued why vinyl is so expensive:
“Alex Durlak co-founded Toronto independent label Idée Fixe (home to Jennifer Castle and Bry Webb), whose latest release, Bart’s Holomew, features gorgeous embossed and foil stamping for its packaging and still only costs $17.
“Making vinyl is expensive, there’s no question,” Durlak says. “And, sure, the Canadian conversion on the dollar hurts. But my understanding is that overall costs have not increased. I do think you have major corporations thinking, ‘Oh look, people are spending money – let’s reissue the Beach Boys catalogue again!’ That stuff is definitely overpriced purely because people will pay for it.”
Last year in Canada, vinyl sales totalled 517,400 units, a jump of 30 per cent over 2014, according to Nielsen. (Some perspective: the top seller, Adele’s 25, scanned 6,200 vinyl copies compared to 622,000 CDs and 238,000 digital.) It’s hard to imagine companies choosing to piss off vinyl-loving customers with flagrant price-gouging, yet several store owners confirmed off the record that some distributors have increased the wholesale price of certain titles by as much as 100 per cent. It’s hard for shops to sell a record for $30 when it costs them $40.
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“I don’t price on margins. I try to make $10 on new stuff,” says Trevor Larocque, co-owner of the Tiny Record Shop, a vinyl-only store specializing in rare vintage records that also stocks the latest. “So if it costs me $19, I sell it for $29.99 and I’m fine. If my cost goes up to $40 for a record, I have to sell it for $50. I still make money, but it’s not as fun, and people aren’t as happy when they leave the store”.
Like every product out there; it costs money to make it and the material is not cheap. There has been that years-long argument whether C.D.s are too expensive and could be lowered; if digital music is compensating artists fairly – and whether more people should pay to listen to songs on sites like Spotify and YouTube (the former does offer a subscription but there is the option to pay). I am concerned one of the reasons many are hand-picking songs – rather than enjoying albums in their fullest – is because of the prices. If you can get a song for a lot less than a quid; why would you splash out on a vinyl that can run you in the neighbourhood or a decent lunch?! It is strange to see because, in 2016, there was great news regarding vinyl sales:
“Sales of vinyl in 2016 reached a 25-year high as consumers young and old have once again embraced physical formats of music.
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More than 3.2m LPs were sold last year, a rise of 53% on last year and the highest number since 1991 when Simply Red’s Stars was the bestselling album. This was also the first year that spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads”.
A lot of those sales, I suspect, were older albums being re-appreciated and treasured. There was the benefit of seeing smaller labels and artists benefitting from the boom. I can understand why people would lure after records. You have the artwork – one of the reasons I have scattered various images through this piece – and are purchasing something fantastic. Whereas streaming services seem best for those who want music on the move: vinyl is for those who want to linger and study their music; who appreciate what it means and how important the feel and texture of an album is. I still find, despite the resurgence, many are being put off by the high prices. There are great record stores out there where you can find used vinyl. If lucky; you might be able to purchase a classic for a cut-down price. That is another reason to go crate-digging: discovering something genius for so little money! Although the last couple of years have seen people preserving the honour of vinyl: how long before the relative affordability of digital music swings the balance back the other way?
IN THIS PHOTO: The cover of Arca's album, Arca/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
With so many independent record shop going out of business, soon, the only areas we will get records is online or through major chains. The bigger bodies do not have any reason to lower prices; they will not sell vinyl second-hand so people can experience a record without breaking the bank. You can go on sites like Amazon but, as an example, I found a few problems. For a start; vinyl is rarer than C.D. and digital – many albums or either unavailable on vinyl or there are fewer copies. If that is the case then the consumer is vulnerable to a financial spanking. I was fantasising about Christmas and which records I will spend my money on. I looked for Jack White’s Blunderbuss and Lazaretto and, whilst the latter was unavailable, the former ran in at quite a cost! I managed to find Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique at a good price but the average cost of most albums I looked for was between twenty and thirty of my English pounds! For an album you want to play/keep for years; that seems like a pretty good price, no? It is a good investment but, unless you can afford to buy it in the first place, it is hard to accrue a record collection! I have often wondered whether there is a way of making vinyl more affordable for those who want to acquire a serious tally!
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There are vinyl clubs where you can order the latest releases – they are expensive and not a long-term solution to the issue. If, in the way you had record clubs years ago, you could order a record and have a series sent to you at a reduced cost. Those who used to participate in the older schemes found issues where they were tied in and it was a little too good to be true! It would not force a subscriber to order a minimum amount – and spend the same amount of money they would have done usually – but it would give the music-lover vinyl at the minimum cost. If one were to guarantee a certain sale – ordering a few dozen records over a few years – then it would not put off labels and artists. I feel the price of vinyl is so high because it feels the financial strain when matched against streaming services. People are worried many are getting music for free so, in order to recoup some of the losses; they keep the price high and can salvage something. I feel there is a danger many will flock to the Internet if the prices remain high and there is no negotiation. A way of conserving the fanatical vinyl-loving community is priceless and needed. There are those who will never abandon their church but I feel the ‘flock’ will snap up fewer records than before – preferring second-hand ones and desperately trying to keep the record stores open.
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I love record shops but I know many will close in the next few years. Most of the vinyl we purchase is on the Internet and it is the most convenient and dependable outlet. Getting together a legitimate and solid club/site for those who want to keep their tastes vinyl should be on the minds of many out there. We have seen a rise in vinyl sales but there are many who cannot afford to buy a decent and traditional L.P. – they are flocking to Spotify and fancy that less expensive route. Christmas is a time when many of us are (luckily) gifted vinyl and will be enjoying it for years to come. The downside is we will get hooked and want to go out and buy a load more records. I am in that position and have a wish-list of about six or seven. That list will cost anywhere between £100 and £130. I can get those albums on C.D. for nearly half the price and even less on streaming sites. We should encourage future generations to stick with vinyl and mix it with a diet of digital sounds. If the prices remain high – and record shops dwindle and disappear – then there is that danger vinyl will become near-obsolete and a niche item (affordable and needed by older listeners and those with more cash). I am not the only one who wants a remedy to the malady we are faced with: the continued favour and augmentation of vinyl records is one of the best thing about modern music. I understand there are processes and costs involved with manufacturing but I question whether vinyl is needlessly marked-up and aimed at huge profitability. Are those who love their music physical being cheated and exploited? Are there ways we can lower the cost of vinyl and keep everyone happy? Is it a losing game by fighting for the honour of a record? More discussion needs to occur so we can promise those growing up they will be able to collate a decent and inspiring record collection…
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WITHOUT breaking the bank.