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LP revival: Fact or fantasy?

Vinyl's groovy, but with sales in the low millions, it's still a niche market. Best-selling LP of 2008 was Radiohead's "In Rainbows," which sold a piddling 28,800 platters.

Steve Guttenberg

I'm not sure why, but there's a never-ending stream of articles cheering on vinyl's comeback. I guess if it's a slow news day, editors can't resist plugging in yet another story about booming LP sales, and they always claim something along the lines of "Kids are digging the grooves, they've seen the light, and now crave analog sound!"


Don't get me wrong; I wish it were true. Maybe in some alternative universe, vinyl is flying off the shelves, and kids are ditching their iPods and buying turntables.

Back here on the Earth we know and love, 2008 sales of LPs were up 89 percent, from 990,000 in '07 to 1.88 million in '08. That's hardly a boom, now that CD sales are in the hundreds of millions. The best-selling LP of 2008 was Radiohead's "In Rainbows," which sold a piddling 28,800 platters. Second-place honors went to another British band, The Beatles, which sold 16,500 "Abbey Road" LPs. If those numbers are accurate, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke and company were trying to live off LP sales, they'd have to get day jobs.

So sure, there's more and more new and reissue vinyl, and that's great, but only a teensy-weensy number of people buy new vinyl. Most of my vinyl-loving buddies regularly score free records on the street, or pay a buck or two for used vinyl to play on their megabucks high-end turntables. Again, no problem there, but it's not the same as a true vinyl resurgence. That's just media hype.

I love vinyl because it looks cool and sounds great. I own around 4,000 LPs. And I'm hoping that the vinyl revival keeps growing. But the market for physical media--CDs and LPs--has nowhere to go but down. More than anything else, people want cheap or free music, playable anywhere they want.

Vinyl doesn't fit that model. Music now serves as background filler, something you have on while you do something else: read, cook, exercise, commute, work, whatever. Vinyl doesn't lend itself to those sorts of activities; it's a listening medium. That's a low priority nowadays.

There's no getting around it; new vinyl is more expensive than CDs or downloads. If you love it, it's worth it. If music is mere background, it's not all that valuable.

Do you buy vinyl? New stuff or just used?

Do you think vinyl will be around in five years?