The vinyl revival — Your next business revolution?

16th April 2019

Ok, so I’ll start by asking forgiveness for the cheesy title, but it has merit. Are we all even aware of its rapid resurgence? The recent purchase of HMV was driven by the potential of a growing and continuing Vinyl Revival. You might think it’s just a temporary comeback to rival that of Steps, Kate Bush, or even Rick Astley, but it’s more significant and I’d like to explore it further.

Let me share my own experience. I’m sat at my computer writing this article whilst listening to ‘More Specials’ by, The Specials on 2 Tone records. Before I sat down I’d spent five minutes connecting my turntable via Bluetooth to my Echo, a modern activity yet that very modernity is countered by the listening of a vinyl re-release from 1980.

I find that the vinyl experience beats an MP3 with its simple click and approach. Music is emotive, it’s personal, it’s spiritual, it’s worth much more than a click on an MP3 player. Whilst I love vinyl I know not everyone shares this passion. If you’re a revivalist sceptic, let me explain why it matters.

I came back to vinyl in part because my 50’s are here and the need for nostalgia, to relive my teenage years is strong but also because music had become an intangible activity for me. I missed the experiences that come with vinyl, holding it in my hands, savouring the upcoming audible journey before the click as the stylus lifts itself and rests awaiting my intervention to restart the process. Is there no greater joy than standing in a store flicking carefully, respectfully even, through rows of albums before finding a gem and holding it into the light to check for scratches before deciding if it’s to be mine to savour?

I thought my experiences were just pure nostalgia before I noticed something unusual, the charts aren’t full of 70’s and 80’s reprints, the stores aren’t populated by the 40 somethings, there are teens, those in their 20’s, 30’s, it’s truly diverse. The latest vinyl chart has Sam Smith, Kylie Minogue, even a ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ collection for Pete’s sake. Clearly, there’s no age limit, there’s no genre-based influences at play, there’s no fashion based movement behind this.

So, why would the record industry support what some would perceive as a backwards move, a technological step back towards manufacturing, distribution and retailer margins? Surely this has an impact on their revenue margins and doesn’t the need to make an MP3, a CD and a vinyl release mean financial disaster? Think about it for a moment, the MP3 and the CD can be copied, shared, pirated in a way that vinyl cannot. Yes, one can connect a Bluetooth turntable to the computer and rip an MP3 but why when I’ll wave goodbye to the tangible, emotive appeal that vinyl offers me?

I was long ago dissatisfied with the record industry and their profit-driven behaviour. I found myself asking why would an MP3 cost the same, if not more than a CD when theres no manufacturing, logistics or distribution costs? It’s noticeable that I’m not the only one that felt like this, piracy is up, sales are down, and profits are thinner. It felt broken.

Those that I’ve spoken to in the industry privately admit that they got it wrong, that the lunatics (sorry to The Specials for the blatant plagiarism here), sorry the accountants have taken over the asylum, they’d commoditised a product that is emotive, a luxury purchase that we can opt not to buy, and this was at to their detriment. We have a choice, we could pay £12.99 or we could ask Gary down the pub to copy the album for nothing for us. Sure, one person had paid their money, but the internet could benefit for free. No one lost, did they?

But things have changed, the record companies have adapted. This morning for research purposes, I promise, I went into a record store and I ended up handing over £22.99 for a vinyl of Classic Quadrophenia. I paid with a smile, an anticipatory glint in my eye and a little buzz after finding a gem I would never have looked for on MP3. I was part of the new revolution where I had my shiny new vinyl and the record industry got its sales.

Whilst the recent increases won’t break any records, it’s still a small yet significant movement. We saw evidence of the revolution in a September 2017 report when Nielsen Records published figures showing a fall in physical album sales of 18.3%, due in no small part to music streaming services, yet vinyl sales had countered this trend and continued to rise by 3.1% whilst in the US, vinyl sales represent almost 14% of overall sales volumes. I had considered my vinyl passion to be unique, a little retro-counter culture when in reality I’m part of a wider, measurable movement.

It’s not only record companies that are enjoying this sales revolution, there’s the turntable manufacturers, the retailers, the logistics companies, they’re all benefitting. It’s not a wholesale change but it’s a trend that other industries could and should not ignore. You see, the revolution came not from new technologies, but from listening to customers and not accountants. The record industry noticed the emotive need behind their product, that the need had not gone away, that it had sat there unfulfilled, and they reacted by revisiting and reusing what had gone before. They fulfilled the customers need and now they’re seeing the benefits.

The business revolution you may be searching for may not be in the product design but in the move towards stepping backwards to sales and distribution models that had worked in the past. Perhaps, as the record industry has learnt, technology can be a longer-term loser rather than a leader. Would your industry benefit from this new/ old revolution? Is there a change waiting in the wings for your company too?

Viva la Revolution!