Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Vinyl Revival

The question of the week for my presentation was “how does media convergence influence new media markets?” I chose to do my case study over the revival of vinyl records in popular culture and the effects of this trend on the heavily digital music industry. In 2015, Vinyl Record sales reached a 28 year high, accounting for over $400 million in sales (Morris, 2016). This is more of the market share than popular ad-supported streaming services like youtube, vevo, and other free internet radio sites (Morris, 2016).  The beginning of this phenomenon could be attributed to Record Store Day, a marketing scheme started in 2008 by a small group of independent record stores to bring some interest to their nostalgic niche of the market (Sax, 2016). Since 2008, vinyl sales have enjoyed considerable growth year after year, some years as much as 30% annual growth (Morris, 2016). In fact, the movement grew so quickly that the outdated production methods for this once obsolete media were unable to keep up with demand. Up to 90% of the raw materials used to make these records all came from one source in 2015 (Barron, 2016). Producers faced up to 6 month delays in having their records pressed due to a severe shortage of pressing facilities (Sax, 2016). This is where the media convergence began to affect current markets.

According to an article in the New Yorker, in 2016 two new record pressing machines were introduced to the market, both modern upgrades to the outdated record presses of the 70s (Sax, 2016). The article has this to say about the more advanced of the two machines, Toronto-based company Viryl’s Warm Tone: “The Warm Tone is outfitted with dozens of computerized sensors, which monitor everything from heat and humidity to the specific blend of PVC being used, and allow the pressing process to be calibrated in response to conditions. The best vintage presses can produce a record every thirty to forty seconds; the Warm Tone promises to do so in twenty-five seconds, a significant advantage for a plant that presses tens of thousands of records a day. Viryl also says that the machine’s defect rate is only one per cent” (Sax, 2016). This is a clear example of the convergence of this outdated media on the current new media markets which had all but forgotten the vinyl medium.

Another example can be seen in an article from Adweek magazine, which focuses on how new media brands are capitalizing on this analog medium. The article says, “Figuring out how to create a differentiated product for consumers in a sea of streaming music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music or iTunes has been a point of concentration for everyone associated with vinyl, even labels like Interscope Records, which has built its vinyl marketing efforts aggressively over the last two years, according to Gary Kelly, head of digital and revenue at Interscope. "Streaming and downloads are almost like a commodity to a degree, where everything is the same," says Kelly. "People are searching for that premium experience where they can show they are a superfan, and they can have that artwork sitting in their record collection or dorm room. We're in the digital age, but here we are going back to analog in some respects’” (Monllos, 2016). Kelly even went so far as to say that vinyl marketing has “really become a fundamental part of how we do business” (Monllos, 2016.)

Dela Cerna of Erika Records notes that the rise of vinyl media hasn’t created competition for the digital media industry, despite its rise in popularity. "We don't see it as the digital world versus the analog world—we see the two working well together to keep music alive," she said (Monllos, 2016). The article in Adweek even conjectures “that digital and analog work in harmony is key” to the success of vinyl media (Monllos, 2016).

To prove that digital media has not suffered from this phenomenon, it is worth noting that streaming services have grown 57% over the past year, and now account for 47% of revenues (Friedlander, 2016). Subscription streaming service revenues exceed $1 billion now, and account for 30% of total market revenue (Friedlander, 2016). Permanent downloads have dropped 31% though, a sign that the newest in media technology is pushing the old into obsolescence, even if they are digital (Friedlander, 2016).

In conclusion, the resurgence of vinyl records is a return to analog media in a digital age, and an example of cultural determinism. Despite the constant evolution of media technology, this once obsolete media has made a strong recovery, which counters the idea of technological determinism. However, it has not and will not take over the industry. Digital music continues to grow and evolve, despite the return of vinyl, a fact that supports the ideas of technological determinism. According to an iHeartMedia executive, vinyl “will never take over again as the mainstream platform but it might just find its place as an alternative for people who both want high quality and want to experience music on the format it was originally created on” (Monllos, 2016). I agree fully with this statement, and will conclude with exactly that idea. The vinyl media phenomenon is not one of revolutionary dominance or a countercultural rejection of new media, simply a nostalgic supplement to the sometimes impersonal, intangible music of the digital age.


Barron, L. (2016, March 26). Why Vinyl Has Made a Comeback. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.newsweek.com/why-vinyl-has-made-comeback-323135

Friedlander, J. (2016, September 23). 2016 Mid-Year RIAA Shipment and Revenue Statistics. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from https://www.riaa.com/2016-mid-year-riaa-shipment-and-revenue-statistics/

Monllos, K. (2016, March 7). With Vinyl's Resurgence, Here's How Brands Are Capitalizing on Music's Most Analog Medium. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/vinyls-resurgence-heres-how-brands-are-capitalizing-musics-most-analog-medium-170016

Morris, C. (2016, April 16). Vinyl Record Sales Are At A 28-Year High. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2016/04/16/vinyl-sales-record-store-day/

Sax, D. (2016, April 14). New Hope for Record Store Day’s Vinyl-Supply Troubles. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/new-hope-for-record-store-days-vinyl-supply-troubles

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