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.”

Related: Check out our beginner’s guide to vinyl buying and philosophy

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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