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Vinyl collectors help album industry

Posted: December 30, 2011 - 7:49pm

FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — The sound may not be crystal clear. They can be scratched and skip from time to time. It’s not a very mobile music form.

But they are growing in popularity.

Vinyl record sales have grown steadily over the past six years, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

David Bakula, a senior vice president at Nielsen SoundScan, said 2011 sales of new LPs, or long-playing records, are almost 3.5 million year-to-date compared to 2.8 million in 2010. LP sales are also bucking the downward trend in the industry; overall album sales dropped 13 percent in 2010, but sales of vinyl increased by 12 percent during the same period, according to Sound-Scan.

“It’s not like we’re just breaking last year’s record, we’re killing it,” Bakula said.

That’s good news for local record collector Glen Wheeler. The former record store owner estimates he has between 50,000 and 60,000 records stacked and boxed, filling his Springdale home.

“It’s really making a comeback, which is great for me,” Wheeler said. “People have questioned my sanity for about 10 years now. I really believed in vinyl and I think I proved to be right.”

Columbia Records introduced the LP in 1948. Wheeler believes the format is what made the music business.

“Rock ’n’ roll really took off,” he said.

He called the 12-inch LP format the perfect art form, allowing 20 to 25 minutes of music on each side.

“That’s about as long as you can hold someone’s attention,” he said. “CDs are just too long.”

CDs, or compact discs, hit their highest selling point in 2001 at 712 million. Sales have steadily declined, but accounted for almost 73 percent of $326.2 million in 2010 album sales, according to SoundScan.

Digital downloads are growing, accounting for about a quarter of 2010 sales.

Bakula said LP sales might make up barely 1 percent of sales, but he doesn’t anticipate the growth to stop any time soon.

He said visibility and more musicians producing vinyl have helped the trend.

“There is more focus on it. Record labels are putting out special packages and vinyl only exclusives,” he said. “Sales are really being driven by indie stores.”

Spencer Lee works at The Sound Warehouse in Fayetteville. The independently owned store sells a variety of music formats, but Lee said vinyl is the top seller.

“We’re not interested in doing anything that doesn’t help the music scene in Fayetteville,” he said.

He said the store’s customer mix cuts across all demographics, and while it mainly sells used vinyl, the store also carries new releases.

“Classic rock is still our biggest seller, but is followed by the newer stuff,” Lee said.

SoundScan’s data reflects that trend, showing “Abbey Road” by the Beatles, first released in 1969, as the top selling album of 2011 followed by indie band Fleet Foxes. More than 35,000 new vinyl copies of “Abbey Road” have been sold year-to-date. Retail price of new vinyl issues average $20.

“‘Abbey Road’ is kind of the stereotypical album. That and Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ will probably always sell well on vinyl,” Bakula said.

The top 25 list of new albums sold this year includes an eclectic mix of old and new, mainstream and indies. Adele, Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Radiohead, Guns N’ Roses and Bright Eyes are all on the list.

Lee said artists are releasing vinyl again because of the sound and the artistry of the album covers.

“Vinyl sounds better because it doesn’t compress the music,” he said. “With digital you lose a lot of the sound and it isn’t as full.”

Chris Plake, manager at Vintage Stock in Rogers, said some customers buy albums for the cover art.

“Then they will frame it and hang it on the wall,” he said.

He said Record Store Day helps draw customers.

Record Store Day was started by the industry in 2007 as a celebration of independently owned record stores. It occurs on the third Saturday in April. Both Sound Warehouse and Vintage Stock participate in the annual event.

Bakula said record labels put out special and limited edition LPs for Record Store Day and it helps draw attention to the music format.

Drew Jones, a University of Arkansas student, said he looks forward to Record Store Day now that he has started collecting vinyl. His collection is small with about 40 albums. He just started listening to LPs a few years ago when he discovered his father’s collection of ’70s classic rock.

“I started listening to his albums while I was still in high school, and once I got to college I started buying my own, newer LPs,” Jones said.

He likes that many of the new albums he buys also come with a digital copy.

“I like the old-style sound, but I also like to be able to take my music with me,” Jones said.

Tom Smith of Rogers, said the size of LPs has kept him from adding to his collection of about 500. He said he bought his first record in 1964, the day after the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

“I bought them until CDs came out,” he said. “I don’t have space for them. They take up a whole closet and they are heavy.”

Smith works at Walmart’s home office, but does disk jockey work on the side, so he needs a lot of music. He said most of his DJ work is music from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

“Most of the stuff I use now for my business is digital,” he said. “LPs are just too clunky to carry around.”

Turntables are also making a comeback, but most now have USB connections and allow transfer to digital.

April Durgin, an employee at Best Buy in Rogers, said the store carries a limited number, but several more are available online.

“The prices vary on how sophisticated a system the customer wants,” she said.

The Rogers store had three styles on display, and Durgin said they were all sold out.

“We’re surprisingly selling quite a few of them,” she said.

Best Buy also carries a limited supply of new vinyl, mostly special edition boxed sets.

Lee said he bought his record player at Goodwill for $30.

“It’s great,” he said. “If you are just looking to play records, look used first.”

Karen Hoffman, a manager at Goodwill in Bentonville, said she didn’t have any turntables on hand a week before Christmas.

“We don’t get a whole lot of record players, but when we do get them, they sell fast,” she said.

She had about 80 records for sale ranging in cost from $1 to $2. Special albums may cost a few dollars more.

Collectors and record store owners often find what they’re looking for at thrift stores and flea markets.

“You would be surprised at what people donate. They don’t always know the value,” Hoffman said. “We don’t always know the value.” 

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