The Rise of the ‘Superfan’
ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash
Those Keeping Vinyl Sales Burning Bright
THERE is a good reason why I return to the subject…
of vinyl and its popularity. Over the weekend; I will explore radio and getting into the industry – collating guides and pointers from those in the industry. Today, an article caught my eye that deconstructed the purchasing habits of those who love their vinyl. Record collectors spent more than $200 million (£147 million) at the online marketplace last year. The Beatles’ promotional seven-inch single, Love Me Do, was the top request: Pet Shops Boys and Prince were included in the top-five. An article published by the BBC laid out the statistics:
“A hardcore of 'superfans' buy more than two-thirds of all the vinyl records sold in the UK, according to new data.
The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) says these collectors fork out more than £400 every year, accounting for 72% of sales.
With the average LP costing £20.31, superfans are each purchasing at least 19 albums.
The figure illustrates how niche the "vinyl revival" is, despite record-breaking sales over the last few years.
In total, 4.1m vinyl albums were sold in 2017, the highest number since the 1990s.
But the format only accounts for 3% of the total music market, and in 2015 a BBC/ICM poll found that almost half (48%) of the vinyl records people buy never get played”.
We can extrapolate a couple of things from the statistics: the fact the majority of vinyl purchases are by ‘superfans’ means other people are less interested: maybe there are spearheading a mass army that is bringing the honesty and physicality back into music.
I would split my mind between the two: the fact so many buy an arm-full of records each year means they want to keep the passion alive and connect deeply with the music; there is still the need to recruit others and create a better split between digital and physical. I am one of those who spread themselves across all formats. I have wallets full of C.D.s for the car; I am on Spotify, YouTube and SoundCloud when reviewing and at the laptop; I have my case of vinyl for when I need to unwind and experience music at its very finest. The article I quoted above stated the ‘superfan’ dominates the Blu-Ray market: there are fewer when it comes to D.V.D.s and C.D.s. Maybe it is the sheer size and force of a record. It is like carrying home a new-born baby to obsesses over and have. The C.D. is great – I am keeping the market propped-up on my own! – but it is easy to chuck them away and not really drool over them. Digital music is great but we take a much more casual and fast-paced attitude to the format – playing loads of songs and skipping through without digesting what is being said in some cases. With Record Store Day still in the memory; it seems the communal shop experience is vital to record lovers.
The price of vinyl, as I have said before, can be damning and eye-watering. I have been looking around for some new records and, even if they are not mega-successful and popular; they can cost anything over £20. What amazes me is how much one can spend when they get to a record shop. You go in looking for one thing and then, before you know it, you have four or five other L.P.s under the arm and are spending anywhere close to a hundred quid! Maybe the trip down to your favourite vinyl spot is a rarity: when you do go down, you are spending a lot and buying quite a few records. That is a different dynamic to buying C.D.s or D.V.D.s, for instance. It would be good to see more pressing plants so we can produce a lot more records. I am not sure what the costs are involved with making a record but the extra money coming into the industry – can we not build more spaces, factories or local presses, when we could make a record more effectively and cheaply? I appreciate it is a big process making a record and printing on the sleeve etc. but I wonder if the high costs are excluding those testing the waters – the ‘superfans’ are still the ones who will overcome anything to get their hands on some vinyl.
I wonder if there is a pragmatic way of lowing production costs and ensuring we tempt more buyers in. If you look at a C.D. and the size of it – is it too unreasonable to ask £20 for a record when a C.D. costs only half that?! I know the ‘superfans’ will not mind shelling out but some in-store loyalty programmes could be implemented where they get discounts for bulk-buying and loyal custom; promoting seven-inch singles and smaller vinyl so that people can get a taste and bond with the format. We have to ask ourselves, over the past few years: who are the ones buying vinyl? A 2016 article found some interesting results:
“Those who have recently purchased a vinyl album are most likely to be aged between 45 and 54, apparently. In fact, those in the 18-24 age group are the least likely. It is not just an act of hoarding by hobbyists, either – it has emotional significance: older vinyl buyers are slightly more likely to keep their feelings to themselves (56% of vinyl buyers versus 53% of all UK adults) and enjoy being alone (69% of vinyl buyers versus 66% all UK adults)”.
Fortune followed that up a year later:
“The demographic responsible for the comeback is actually 18-24 year olds, an interesting age group given that they likely grew up buying digital copies of music rather than physical ones, unlike older generations.
One in four people in the 18-24 demographic said they had purchased a vinyl record in the last year, with a good number of those indicating they purchase a new vinyl each month. 83% of the age group has purchased some sort of physical media in the past year (DVDs, books, CDs, records), which is much higher than the 76% average across all age groups”.
It seems the shift has gone from the middle-aged to the younger listeners: those who grew up around their parents’ vinyl collection are carrying on that trait and spending their cash on records. Whilst there is no real age and profile of what a ‘superfan’ constitute, some worrying research shows that nearly half of all vinyl purchases are not being listened to:
“…But new research suggests that while more people, notably young people, are buying into vinyl, a lot of them aren’t actually playing the records.
An ICM poll, shared with the BBC, says 48% of people who bought vinyl last month have yet to play the record. Some 7% of those surveyed said they didn’t even own a turntable, while a further 41% said they have one but don’t use it. We humbly suggest people could rectify this situation with one of our recommended turntables”.
It is concerning so many people have vinyl as a piece of art or never actually putting it onto a turntable – does it matter what we do with a record and how we see fit to display it?! Maybe we should recommend turntables as heavily as vinyl. Does that mounting expense put people off buying an L.P. in the first place? Are the younger generation more concerned with nostalgia, a lost beauty and physicality – the middle-aged and older buyer continuing as they did as children and unwilling to bend to the digital dominance?! Those loyal and much-reliable fans are pushing up vinyl figures but it would be good to see more money provided to the industry so we can keep record stores alive and expanding. The perfect experience would be to see a singular space for everything vinyl – records ordered according to gene and hardware (headphones and turntables) in another section; have singles and rare memorability in another part. Having a nice and clean décor would attract in those younger listeners but, rather than them walking away with vinyl as a fashion piece – they would learn about all the components and have someone, you’d hope, in the store who could talk about the tech and turntables. I guess, regardless of what people are buying records for; the fact they are popular and still resonating is the main thing!
Those so-called ‘superfans’ are the people who, through economical high wind and rain, are coming out in droves and scouring through racks and crates of vinyl. I am glad all ages are engaging with records and we can mix streaming and digital tastes with the physical and long-playing. Kudos to those who continue to keep vinyl alive and in rude health. I am confident this side of the market will continue to swell and expand as time goes on. It is that loyal core that helps keep the figures impressive and hopeful. It would be good to see more people actually play records. I can understand it is quite a cumbersome and energy-consuming – compared to digital means – but the experience is wonderful and ever-lasting. I will end things here but I cheered to hear about the continued success of vinyl and those hardcore fans who will accept no alternatives. I want to see all physical means survive – vinyl has a particularly fond place in the heart and is a combined artistic and audio experience. If we can encourage growth across all ages and enhance the necessity of playing records – in addition to sporting them as items of art – then that will encourage a wave of interest that will last for generations. Respect to the ‘superfans’ who, whilst they do not wear capes, have a love and curiosity that is impressive indeed. Seeing that kind of hunger and loyalty makes the news is…
DEEPLY impressive indeed.