Earlier this week, it was widely reported that vinyl is outselling digital downloads in the UK for the first time since the iTunes store was launched here in 2004. The real story is that sales of downloads are dropping not because vinyl is wooing back digital listeners but because streaming is becoming the default way of consuming digital music.
The relentless spin on the so-called “vinyl revival” is getting ridiculous – as the Daily Mash pointed out in a piece about how vinyl has become more popular than food. The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has been spinning this line for the last couple years, since taking over the reins of Record Store Day. Unless you are reissuing Foo Fighters albums to be sold in the supermarket chains that have jumped on the vinyl-revival bandwagon, the situation is nowhere near as VG+ as ERA is suggesting.
We have to ask ourselves why people prefer to buy old records. Is it because vinyl is essentially a retro format, so people naturally look backwards instead of forwards? Is it because the whole culture of music – from the BBC 6Music playlist to festival lineups – is so focused on reliving past glories? I’m guessing it’s because these things are a known quantity, and that is what people want from their records: familiarity, nostalgia, a warm and cosy signifier that can be used in ads for banks, cars and clothes.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that people are still buying vinyl, and it’s no bad thing that it’s becoming more widely available. But it seems to have had very little impact on the industry at large, apart from making things even more difficult.