Off the Clock: The Comeback of Vinyl

May 13, 2016

Jeremy Schmetterer/KBIA

Vinyl records have made a tremendous international comeback in the past five years… And it’s had an impact on the local record industry as well.

Connor Kraus is browsing hundreds of vinyl records inside Columbia’s Hitt Records.

“I’m looking for the new Radiohead album,” Kraus said.

He’s looking for a record that hasn’t been pressed yet. Radiohead released its newest album, A Heart Shaped Pool, to digital retailers and streaming services on Sunday but it won’t be out on vinyl until June 17th because staff at the record store told him that’s the date he can get his hands on the hard copy. Though Kraus can listen to the album with services like Apple Music whenever he wants, he still plans to buy the record.

“There’s just something special about having your hands on a physical copy,” he said. “It’s a more intimate listening experience.”

According to Nielson, the leading global information and measurement company, 2.8 million vinyl records sold in 2010. Last year, 12 million sold. That’s a nearly 330% increase in five years. Kyle Cook is the co-owner of Hitt Records, and he’s been collecting music his entire life.  

“There’s like no romance in looking at someone’s iTunes library, but looking through someone’s record collection is like looking through their mind almost,” he said. “Like, ‘this is what they’re interested in’.”

Cook and Taylor Bacon first opened the record store in 2012 in a small space above 9th Street Video, a local video rental store. The store closed its doors in early April, allowing Cook and Bacon to take over the space and expand their record store.

“We’ve been on the street-level for almost a month now, and we’ve already noticed a dramatic increase from just people randomly cruising into the shop,” he said.

The new location has helped the store open its doors to a different generation of vinyl consumers. Turns out people who grew up with records aren’t the only ones buying vinyl.

Tom Capodanno is the head of vinyl sales at Atlantic Records in New York.

“A lot of young girls now have record players,” he said. “Those girls don’t normally listen to the traditional records that had sold on vinyl in the past, they’re buying Taylor Swift records.”

“Taylor Swift’s 1989 is a great example of a record that we sold like crazy,” Cook said.

Capodanno said retailers like Urban Outfitters have started selling record players and vinyl records in the past few years, which may be a reason for the new demographic. He said commercially successful pop records have added a whole new energy to the vinyl market.

“For some artists, it’s not only a significant portion of our music sales,” he said. “It’s the dominant format.”

But he said pop isn’t the only reason the market has continued to increase steadily for the past five years.

“We just concluded a really successful preorder for the country artist Sturgill Simpson,” Capodanno said. “And over 75% of all sales that we made were for the vinyl configuration.”

He said Atlantic Records has also seen rapid growth in hip-hop vinyl sales. And though some industry professionals expect the market to peak soon, he thinks there will always be a market for physical products.

“For a subset of fans that are really passionate about a favorite artist of theirs, owning a physical copy of the music is important for them,” he said. “Vinyl offers the best physical and tactile representation of that artist’s work.”

Cook said the debate about whether or not vinyls sound better than digital music depends on the preference of the listener. But he said physical records offer a more intimate connection to our favorite artists, which is why he thinks the local market will continue to thrive.

“In the same way that a town needs community centers, a library, bookstores, good coffee shops, bars – for me, on a personal level, it’s just another reason to leave your house and experience your community,” Cook said.