The death of CDs: Vinyl is the future at record stores - Reverb

The death of CDs: Vinyl is the future at record stores

Michelle Johnson looks over a large selection of vinyl available at Wax Trax in Denver, Co on April 16, 2014. Photo By Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post.

Michelle Johnson looks over a large selection of vinyl available at Wax Trax in Denver, Co on April 16, 2014. Photo By Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post.

If the CD isn’t dead already, its days are certainly numbered at record stores.

While looking through year-end figures for 2014, Paul Epstein, owner of Denver’s Twist & Shout Records, noticed something he hadn’t seen in 25 years: Gross dollar sales of vinyl records had surpassed that of CDs.

“There’s a romance with (vinyl) now,” Epstein said. “For years, millions of people have swapped convenience for aesthetics and in some crazy cultural way they all woke up and realized they had nothing and their music means nothing and iPods suck and they want to get back to music and caring about it.”

The last five years have seen vinyl sales increasing year after year, with CD sales sliding. Through the first half of 2014, CD sales dropped 19.6 percent, while LP/vinyl sales increased 40.4 percent nationally, according to Nielsen Soundscan reports. In 2013, more than 6 million vinyl LPs were sold, up 33 percent from 4.5 million in 2012.

“Vinyl is becoming the format of choice for the true music fan,” said Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst from MIDiA Research.

“Their view of the CD is Cher’s greatest hits in Wal-Mart, it’s the lowest common denominator for music,” he said. “On vinyl it’s sort of this mystical thing from the past.”

Vinyl’s profitability has always surpassed that of CDs (“the capitalist equivalent of empty calories,” said Epstein), but they’re also much harder to obtain, being less plentiful, there are no returns of vinyl to manufacturers, they take up more space and, on the used side, require “arcane knowledge” to acquire the correct records, Epstein said.

Andy Schneidkraut, owner of Albums on the Hill in Boulder, first noticed this crossover in CD and vinyl gross dollar sales in June of 2013, and since that month, “vinyl sales left CDs in the dust,” he said.

Angelo CDs and More — which sells CDs and vinyl at multiple locations in the Denver metro area — hasn’t yet reached this crossover. However, the store is speeding ever closer to seeing the vinyl pass the CD, said owner Angelo Coiro. It might even happen by next year, he said.

In part, it’s because vinyl LPs cost more. Twist & Shout’s top selling LPs of 2014 — Jack White’s “Lazaretto” and Beck’s “Morning Phase” (both released last year) — cost $28.99 and $24.99, respectively. On CD both sell for $12.99.

It’s a trend that many wouldn’t have anticipated after the CD was introduced in the 1980s and decades later, digital music and streaming services. Audiophiles buy vinyl for the improved sound quality, many people buy Jack White’s “Lazaretto” for its bonus features, but, most importantly, it fills the physical void for owning music. During the great digital shift of the 2000s, an entire generation suddenly neglected the physical ownership of music.

“When you listen to a record you have a relationship with the music — you sit down and have a connection to it,” Schneidkraut said. “They want it to matter, they want an emotional connection. Records require a commitment that CDs and digital music never did.”

An image on your phone or tablet or desktop still doesn’t replace the feeling of holding an album and proudly displaying it on your shelf. For young music fans coming to age in the digital world, that physical aspect is something they want to experience.

“In an era where everything is vanilla, where everything is available at the swipe of a finger, nothing is special anymore,” Mulligan said. “Music fans are trying to find something that’s special and vinyl are special and record stores are putting vinyl back into the equation of what makes music special again.”

With these sales and the cultural trend of customers choosing vinyl instead of CDs, record shops are changing. Twist & Shout, Albums on the Hill, Angelo’s and Wax Trax in Denver are shifting their shelf space to represent the consumer’s growing desire for LPs.

“Anybody who shops here regularly has noticed that the west room has gone from 50 percent vinyl to 100 percent vinyl and now in the east room the back couple of rows have been converted to vinyl,” Epstein said of Twist & Shout. “It’s been a massive amount of change in our store.”

At Wax Trax in Denver, owner Dave Wilkins said the record shop is in the process of moving its 45s to its neighboring CD store to have more room for vinyl LPs. Albums on the Hill will cut back the number of used CDs it keeps on the shelves. Angelo’s has been steadily decreasing its CD section and growing its vinyl and will continue to do so through 2015.

“Even if it is a fad, and even if it passes, what this shows us is that music fans have an inherent hunger for a tangible manifestation of their music taste,” Mulligan said. “They want something they can touch show and feel that says, ‘this is who I am.’ ”

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  • kdennis

    Born in 1957, I grew up with vinyl. And I never grew accustomed to the occasional pops and scratches that would occur with even the most careful handling. Not to mention surface noise. When compact discs are mastered and manufactured correctly, nothing beats the sound for me. Keep the vinyl (and inflated prices). When there is silence in a musical performance, nothing ruins the moment faster than a “pop”!

    • BigBubbaDude

      I agree, born in 1969 I grew up listening to snap crackle and pop, then switched to cassette tapes and tolerated their imperfections over LPs so I didn’t have to listen to snap crackle and pop; now that I’m older I have a nice quality CD collection and will continue to get CDs for their uncompressed digital sound which rivals crap MP3s and let the hipsters keep overpaying for vinyl.

    • Kane

      The occasional pops and scratches are produced by static electricity, inappropriate storage, using old and used neddles combined with low quality arms etc. With proper maintenance for vinyls, no pop’s will be audible. The surface noise actually is produced by extreme low quality phono stages, usualy built in consumer amplifiers. Digital is more convenient but to achieve the musical quality of a good analog setup you have to pay stellar prices. Even technicallly, the cd is limited, a poor dynamic range, the information of vinyl from low levels and peaks are cuted on cd, hence the lack of back noise, in fact a lot of details (audiophiles call information) are removed. A lot of people are confused, they belive that a normal vinyl audition should be made with the granny’ TT and his old records. I totally agree with the annoying pop’s but they can be avoided using a range of maintenance accesoirs, incliuding a dedicated washing machine. After all, you need patience but the result pay back all the work :)

      • disqus_XiJzSRCGqb

        You simply do not know what you are talking about.

  • Vic Rattlehead

    Hipster stuff

  • Nick Strang

    I’ve just opened a record shop in Nottingham, UK called Plates records. We are a vinyl only shop, specialising in analogue audio and I can honestly say we don’t care about cd’s… :)

    We will however be stocking tapes soon as they too are an important part of the reasons why vinyl is such a positive influence on music…plus the sound!

  • David Bottoms

    40-year collector here…wow, I remember shopping at Wax Trax in the early ’80s, when I was in school in Denver….

  • dd

    As far as the snap crackle pop comments, if you spent some money on a quality turntable, replaced your stylus as needed, and TOOK CARE OF YOUR RECORDS you wouldn’t have that problem. If that is too much to ask of you then you’re better off with the sterile sound of CDs. Enjoy them!

    • redriverndn

      Exactly !!!! Get a DISCWASHER !!!! Learn how to HOLD A RECORD & USE THE RECORD SLEEVE correctly…

      • kdennis

        Thanks for the advice on record handling and care.

        Back when I was purchasing vinyl (1967 – 1990), it was mass produced – by the hundreds of millions of units. Quality control was not a priority. I worked in record stores in the late 70s-early 80s and can attest to that. Pops & scratches were inevitable. I always used plastic sleeves for the vinyl and the cover, changed styluses and had a little brush on the tone arm to sweep as the record spun (I was never sold on that weird fluid in the discwasher system). There’s no doubt that high-end equipment can bring out the best in vinyl, but that was not in the cards for me back then or now. Plus, multiple relocations left me weary of storing and carting the entire collection around – at the end I sold nearly 2000 albums and a few hundred vinyl singles

        But to each his own…and I’m glad independent record stores have found, with vinyl, a way to continue their existence. Twist and Shout and Black & Read are my favorite places to spend time.

        • redriverndn

          I still have over 500 LP’s, but I haven’t played them in years…. Almost gave them away 10 years ago but then the guy I was giving them too made the mistake of looking at them in front of me, then I changed my mind…. The Discwasher BRUSH & just 2-3 drops of the liquid was all it took, worked well for me for decades…. Holding the records correctly & using the sleeves just became 2nd nature…. Oh yes, NO ONE, absolutely NO ONE was allowed to touch my records…. Made it easy teaching my 2 infant sons the word NO, as soon as they were crawling towards the collection, I got up & turned them around…. :)

  • Eloise51

    Grew up on vinyl and ‘snap, crackle, pop’ is part of my DNA. Not to mention the engagement of the mind & body that ensues as the listener actively participates in the process by placing the vinyl on the turntable and shepherding it from side A to side B. It’s akin to the experience of reading a cereal box while one listens to the snap, crackle, pop and ruminates on life…or at least the surprises a new day may hold! Definitely not the same without a tangible box and the ever changing pops!

  • Joey Rudolph

    I never got rid of my collection- I must have about 4,000 records LP’s and 45’s— I still have CD’s too- and my cassettes- all together that must be about 9,000 total- and vinyl has a beauty that CD does not- some vinyl sounds better then CD some not- my imports of Hendrix and Beatles all are in pristine shape- use them wisely- get a DISCWASHER to clean your vinyl- and enjoy owning a collection- my friends envy me for sticking it out- I never wavered in my love for music

  • Vinyl Guru
    Just went to a really cool record shop in Venice, Florida last month. I think it was called “Vintage Goodies”. :) Ah, the sound of vinyl!

  • Pat443

    I still have a massive collection of vinyl, much of it gleaned from my years in radio, including time as the record librarian for a major radio syndication company that produced programming for seven music formats and 40 international airlines (the shows you listened to on headphones). So I think I can offer an expert opinion here. I mostly listen to CDs these days because of the quality and convenience. Record noise is not a problem with my records because I always knew how to treat them, and my 40-year-old albums look as if they just came from the factory. I also love the larger format and all the cool stuff that came with LPs (try to get an original copy of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” or Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” and you’ll see what I mean. Those were worth the price for the packaging and all the extras alone).

    But I don’t buy the argument that vinyl is superior as a recording medium. Aside from pops and clicks, CDs have a much wider frequency range and no problems with distortion, particularly acute in the inner tracks of LPs, once the tone arm is at an angle (turntables that track straight across the record help with that, but they are rare and expensive). And if you’re trying to collect old vinyl, you may find that even pristine albums suffer from terrible quality control. Some are notorious for it, like those awful RCA Dynaflex pressings. And when I was running the record library in the early ’80s, those rainbow label MCA pressings were the curse of my existence. Every one of them would come straight out of the sleeve with a line of scuffs/scratches on at least one side. They also used recycled vinyl. I kid you not, I often had to get multiple copies to find one that didn’t have little pieces of paper labels from old records pressed into the groove. And don’t get me started on picture discs!

    Many of the complaints people have about CDs sounding too tinny or dry are not a function of the medium, but bad engineering. Especially in the early days, engineers were so thrilled at having so much distortion-free high end to play with that they sharpened every sound like a #2 pencil. That’s how they ruined “Exile on Main Street.” It was meant to sound like a swampy live club mix, and it came out on CD with every “ting!” of the cymbals ringing like a Christmas bell. Fortunately, most of today’s engineers have gotten beyond that compulsion.

    BTW, how far back do I go with this? While I was working at the radio production company, two Japanese guys came from Sony to try to sell us on this new format called the “compact disc.” They had just one demo disc, a Bee Gees album. I guess it was the only one in the world at that time. I’m not certain, but I believe it was “Spirits Having Flown.” We all gathered to hear this amazing new revolution in sound, they loaded the player, pressed Play, and…nothing. They futzed around and argued in Japanese, then finally gave up, telling us that it wouldn’t work because we must have “dirty electricity.” We snickered, thanked them and went back to our studios, laughing that compact discs would never kill off vinyl. And I guess we were right: they never did.

    But for years afterward, we jokingly blamed every problem that occurred in the building on our “dirty electricity.”

    • Bradley Olson

      Nowadays, most CDs are mastered with the dynamic range being compressed to the point of it sounding mushy sounding. The older CDs were mastered flat from album masters and often sounded better than most remasters from the late 1990s on forward. There are many older CD pressings that end up selling for big bucks in the collectors market even if there is a remastered edition out there.

    • kdennis

      Great post! Those RCA and MCA – and Mercury – records were awful. Today’s records are high end. Back in the day, it was a crapshoot. I remember standing in a store while the clerk opened a dozen copies of Graham Parker’s Heat Treatment only to find every one had side 2 mispressed. No wonder he later wrote a scathing song called Mercury Poisoning!

    • NavinJay

      I have to agree. I am in the vinyl camp but I would never say vinyl is “better” than CD’s. CD’s have advantages. I just consider CD’s more “cold” and “sterile”. My record sounds a bit different than any other record out there. Pretty much all CD’s sound identical (that were made at the same time). And, you can throw a CD out a window and run a car over it and it probably will still sound the same. Really? I have to respect my vinyl records. I have a great Technics high end turntable and I keep my records protected all the times I am not playing them. I have a connection to them I just never felt with CD’s. Sounds weird, I know. I have about 200 LP’s and about 6000 45rpm records :) And I keep collecting.

  • JLent

    Check out Chain Reaction Records at 8793 W. Colfax

  • Penny in Colorado

    Is there a market in 2nd-hand vinyl? I still have my collection from many moons ago, pretty much all of them in plastic sleeves& covers, some of the covers even hand-made by me. Mostly classical, tho’.

    • M.E.

      Well sure, plenty of stuff hasn’t been reissued and can only be found secondhand. Personally, I love used because it’s usually vastly less expensive, so fishing for it is a great cheap hobby. However, the worth of your collection is heavily dependent on what’s in it. If it’s really good or rare stuff in good condition, it could be worth something, if it’s the stuff you regularly see in the thrift store (Glenn Miller, Mantovani, etc.) or it’s been abused, it’s basically trash.

  • Progfan

    Great vinyl scene in Glasgow,dont regard myself as a hipster and dont bang on about the sound quality,cd and Spotify still have their place and sound great and often better than some record pressings. I would say vinyl would probably give younger people better sound considering how cheaply a decent system can be put together in comparison to a single half decent entry level cdp or Dac.

  • G L Wilson

    It’s not quite true to say that vinyl takes up more shelf space than CDs. With the ridiculous “jewel case” CDs actually take up MORE shelf space.

  • nikonn mikro

    You miss the point.Music only matters.Vinyl,CD and Mp3 are the medium. Music will always find the way to our ears.Focus on music.

  • Elton Crim Jr.

    I’m a little tired of the back and forth about different formats. I was born in the early 60s and love vinyl records but I also love my cds and the few high resolution downloads. I have heard Cds that can rival the sound of vinyl but its not cheap to get there and for the record cds get their imperfections and downloads get digital glitches both of which remind me a scratched records and pops and clicks so that part of argument is silly. To get the best out of vinyl you have to have a decent set up and take care of your records. Install a decent (not expensive) cartridge and clean your records. Cds also need to be cleaned and both mediums may also still get clicks and pops scratches so I’m not sure what people are talking about when they suggest that cds were an escape from those issues. It is true that they were marketed that way though. One other issue is that CD players wear out. The drawer mechanisms break down, they lose the ability to read the disc properly and it is really hard to make a really good sounding one. The cheap crappy ones that most consumers bought are for the most part fatiguing and sound awful compared to their vinyl counterparts. Turntable on the other hand have been much more resilient and many designs are easy to set up. Lastly as I age, I appreciate the size and visibility of a vinyl record compared to the CD. The information on the jacket and inside is easy to read and background information on the other artists on the record can be included. Who is actually playing that saxaphone or piano is important to me and I would assume to the artists as well. CD print in usually non engaging and even if it is it is damn hard to read for anyone over 40 years of age.

  • Elton Crim Jr.

    Also wanted to say to the author that I enjoyed reading the article and any article that spurs discussion and or debate is a job well done.

  • stefano saoncella


  • Chirpy

    “For years, millions of people have swapped convenience for aesthetics and in some crazy cultural way they all woke up and realized they had nothing and their music means nothing and iPods suck and they want to get back to music and caring about it.” HAHAHAHAHAHA, right?

  • NavinJay

    This is very true. I have always preferred vinyl over CD’s and although for a short period I collected some CD’s, mainly artists I wanted at the time that did not have anything on vinyl available, I never left my record collection. Today I have sold all my CD’s and my record collection has tripled. I am even locating many times stuff I thought just wasn’t available on vinyl. Sometimes these come from overseas venues. I love the fact that you have to respect vinyl and care for it and it shines on your turntable in return. One of my favorite things about vinyl is how cool it is to actually SEE the music. If you look at the record grooves, the softer passages have a different look then the louder passages. That is the analog signal you are seeing. It’s so easy to go to Youtube and just listen to something. But, then to go track it down to the far corners of the Earth on vinyl and get it and play it…that is REAL :)

  • Jim Gray

    The death of CDs has a whole lot more to do with digital downloads than hipster vinyl love. Audiophiles are a tiny part of the retail music market, and of course record stores are going to cater to that percentage, since everyone else can get music without buying a physical format, and if you don’t need to get a physical format, who needs to buy from a record shop?

  • Galley

    I don’t understand the appeal of vinyl. I stopped buying LPs in 1979. After a few years of cassettes, I began buying CDs in 1985.

  • Brian

    I went back to buying vinyl a few years ago. I hesitate to call myself an audiophile, just more of a music lover. I got more and more disappointed in the quality of CD’s as time has passed. I still buy one or two occasionally, and still buy a lot of used ones, but new releases are almost exclusively vinyl.

    And it’s mainly a man made problem. The loudness war and the decline in the quality of the packaging being the two main issues for me. Try grabbing a stack of your CD’s and start listening. Starting with the oldest one you’ve got going to the newest. You’ll be continuously adjusting your volume down between discs. The catch is, when you have to turn it down to get it to a comfortable level, it’s because the mastering of the disc is so loud it’s clipping. Why make them louder when I have a perfectly good volume knob that I can turn up if I want it louder? Maybe if they had applied modern mastering techniques but not jacked up the levels on everything, I’d still be firmly in the CD camp.

    Then there’s the cheap packaging that almost all discs are coming in now. Used to be you’d get a nice plastic case to protect what’s inside. The disc rested in a tray they kept it from sliding around. If something happened to that case or tray, you could get a replacement. Now it’s just a cheap piece of cardboard that easily gets beat up or God forbid you accidentally spill something on it. ( I take really good care of my discs, but accidents do happen .)

    So I decided to go back to vinyl. I picked up a new turntable, and have been super happy with my decision ever since. If you clean your records before you play them, usually just a quick brushing, you don’t have snap, crackle and pop singing along with your tunes.

    I still think everything has it’s place. I love my vinyl records at home. I take my CD’s with me to listen to in the car or at work, and I even have an IPod for mowing the grass, walking, or if I take a trip away from home. But I think the vinyl records have the better sound. And I like owning a physical product. I never by downloads unless it’s the only way I can get a particular song.