Record Store Day buoys the resurgence of vinyl - Reverb

Record Store Day buoys the resurgence of vinyl, neighborhood record shops

Dave Wilkins is expecting customers to line up by the dozens outside of Wax Trax Records on Record Store Day to buy exclusive, limited-edition releases from Death Cab for Cutie, the Pixies and other bands.

But they won’t be buying them on CD.

“Almost all the Record Store Day releases are on vinyl, and while we sell everything in sight on that day, we sell vinyl five-to-one over CDs,” said Wilkins, who has managed the Capitol Hill store for 30 years. “Our sales have been up year-over-year for the last 12 years and the majority of that is due to vinyl.”

Record Store Day, which falls on April 19 this year, was founded in 2008 to promote record stores amid their rapid disappearance in the last decade.

It has been a boon to the more than 2,000 participating stores around the world, which sell Record Store Day-exclusive releases by artists ranging from U2, Dolly Parton and Dave Matthews Band to indie acts like Built to Spill and Motel Beds.

And thanks to nostalgia for the old-school LP format, most of it is on vinyl — which has paralleled and encouraged a remarkable comeback.

For the sixth straight year, more vinyl albums were sold last year than in any other year since SoundScan began tracking their sales in 1991. More than 6 million vinyl LPs were sold in 2013, up 33 percent compared to 2012’s of 4.5 million.

And nearly 70 percent of all vinyl sold in 2012 was at an independent record store.

“Listening to vinyl is a warm, human experience,” said Carrie Colliton, co-founder of Record Store Day. “It’s this physical, tangible thing and it parallels (the experience of) going into a record store, where you’re immersed in the music and the ritual of it.”

As consumers have increasingly left physical products behind for digital ones, the recording industry has been fundamentally remade. And while it’s largely been negative for record labels, it’s also had a silver lining.

It’s not just record labels getting in on the action: KBCO (97.3 FM) in Boulder will release its first-ever 7-inch single at Denver’s Twist and Shout Records and Boulder’s Albums on the Hill as part of Record Store Day, featuring songs from American Authors and Jake Bugg.

Vinyl sales may only account for 2 percent of the overall music market. But with a 250 percent jump since 2002, they show no signs of slowing down.

“It’s kind of a miracle of timing,” Colliton said. “I’m fairly confident vinyl would have comeback had Record Store Day not existed, but you can’t make an argument it hasn’t had something to do with the resurgence. We’ve never said, ‘You have to release this on vinyl,’ but artists like it and it’s trendy right now.”

Record Store Day has focused the attention of both artists and consumers on the format. And for the moment, the only thing holding back vinyl’s growth is the limited capacity of the handful of factories still pressing wax LPs.

“That’s the only ceiling,” said Billboard editor-at-large Joe Levy. “You can get digital music for free, and that’s a very difficult price point to compete with. But what we’ve seen with vinyl sales is that there’s a certain kind of fan who really does want to show his or her love for music. And especially among younger consumers who didn’t grow up with vinyl, they think it’s cool and exciting and they love the way it sounds.”

“Music listening often starts at streaming services these days, but we still believe a lot of the real discovery going on is at independent record stores,” said Rich Bengloff, president of the American Association of Independent Music, which represents more than 300 record labels. “These stores have really fed that, and for our business model (vinyl) has become a meaningful stream of revenue.”

Managers at the 30 Colorado record stores participating in Record Store Day this year have said the only downside is the burden of unsold RSD product — which is rare, but still an issue when some releases cost as much as $50 wholesale.

“It’s expensive to create your busiest day of the year,” said Andy Schneidkraut, owner of Boulder’s 39-year-old Albums on the Hill. “It’s a risk when you have to order a large number of specially-allocated items and none of it is returnable. It has certain elements of the baseball card bubble, where speculators bought up everything and inflated the value.”

Schneidkraut cited examples of unsold Record Store Day vinyl like Bob Dylan’s three-LP “Side Tracks” set, or a David Lynch speciality package that retailed for $150. He bought five of the latter and has yet to sell one of them.

“Last year on (Record Store Day) we sold ten times what we would have sold on a normal Saturday, but it really put us through hell,” said Wax Trax manager Wilkins. “You can order 100 copies of the really popular stuff and you might get two copies. You might also get none. You have no control over it.”

Still, it’s been an overall boon as indie stores struggle to compete with chains like Best Buy and Walmart, or online retailers Amazon and iTunes.

“The general impression is that, at worst, stores are moving 80 percent of the product on the Saturday of the event,” said Jason Taylor, marketing director for Redeye Distribution, which supplies brick-and-mortar shops with Record Store Day products.

This year there are 450 RSD-exclusive releases with an average run of 2,000 copies per piece, and at an average retail price of $18. Even if only 80 percent of them sell, that’s still roughly $13 million in extra revenue for independent record stores.

“Records come now with a digital component so there are people who buy them just to collect them or hang them on the wall,” said RSD co-founder Colliton. “And lately we’ve seen so many 13 and 14-year-olds getting into classic rock through vinyl. It’s sort of like nostalgia — for the first time.”

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John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and critic for The Denver Post. Follow him @johnwenzel.

  • ApathyNihilism

    “You can get digital music for free, and that’s a very difficult price point to compete with.”

    That’s not true. You can STEAL digital music. That is not a “price point” any more than the price point of a stolen car is a price point.