AUDIO EXPERIENCE FROM FRANCE
You are likely to be misled if you gauge the success of the vinyl record market based solely on the sales figures. I carried out my own investigation, gathering facts to determine whether vinyl’s comeback is real or so much media hype. I also interviewed professionals who, each in their own way, are on the front lines. I spoke with Franck Thareault, co-founder of France’s number one turntable retailer maplatine.com, and Xavier Brescia, head of Europe’s largest used album marketplace CDandLP, a very dynamic sector that tends to be forgotten.
Vinyl sales: seeing the forest for the trees
When it comes to the sales of new vinyl records, the SNEP (the French Federation of the Phonographic Industry) has just released the figures for 2014. In France, 514,000 new vinyl records were sold last year, an increase of 42% from 2013 and two times more than in 2012 (230,000). However, vinyl still represents only 2.8% of sales of physical media. The SNEP admits that it did not take into account all the independent labels, which account for a large share of the vinyl market. Although the organization claims to have data for 85% of indie labels, sources at said companies say that the percentage is actually far lower, which means that vinyl sales are greatly underestimated. In the UK, the new vinyl figures are even more impressive: 1.3 million albums were sold in 2014, a record (no pun intended) that hasn’t been reached since 1995 (source: British Phonographic Industry). Vinyl sales are also climbing in Germany and the US; in the latter, more than 9 million records were purchased in 2014. As elsewhere, this was a dramatic increase, of 50%, compared to 2013 (source: Nielsen Institute).
However, if we want to fully understand all the facets of this trend, we need to take a look at the market for used albums, which is responsible for a significant proportion of vinyl sales, a fact that was emphasized by several independent retailers that I contacted by phone. CDandLP is the number one music marketplace in Europe that specializes in used CDs and vinyl records (15 million items for sale). According to company founder Xavier Brescia: “You can’t argue with the numbers—vinyl records account for 87% of our sales, compared to 11% for CDs.” Amazon also claims that sales of used vinyl records grew tenfold from 2005 to 2012; supposedly they have increased by 745% over the last five years! Those buying used albums are often seeking to rediscover the pleasure of the original analog recordings. From this perspective, it is my opinion that new vinyl records pressed from a digital master have no added value for the ears. Even if it is clearly impossible to fully quantify used vinyl sales in France and worldwide, these few figures are quite impressive and put sales of new vinyl records to shame.
What turntable sales reveal
The website maplatine.com is France’s number one turntable retailer. It offers more than 700 models and sold nearly 2,500 record players last year. Franck Thareault is the company’s co-founder and is therefore well positioned to observe the vinyl trend from the equipment perspective. He comments, “Turntable sales have been climbing year after year. After seeing annual increases of 30%, it would seem that the growth has been even more dramatic over the last few years. The best example is undoubtedly that of the leading turntable brand Pro-ject, which sold more than 150,000 units last year and 250,000 record players total in just two years.”
Are boomers becoming nostalgic? Thareault refutes this claim: “Our clients actually have diverse reasons for buying vinyl. We have a number of young people who are discovering this medium for the first time, while others want to re-experience their parents’ records. There are also, of course, those who enjoyed vinyl before the 80s rolled around and who are looking to rediscover it in the present day.”
(Re)birth of the vinyl community?
Vinyl’s resurgence seems to be driven by a growing community of users, as the sales of used records and new equipment indicate. However, it is hard to quantify this community’s size. For instance, new members may escape notice if, say, they are buying secondhand turntables to take advantage of their parents’ vinyl collections.
Year after year, the record industry numbers from Europe and the US reveal two other trends: the digital music format is taking hold and CD sales have plummeted. This means that, over time, room may be made on the market for vinyl records, which have more charm. And because CDs now come in digital formats, consumers will also literally have more room on their shelves to store those records.
And there is a cherry on top for sound aficionados: vinyl’s comeback may translate into some quality listening experiences, as long as care is taken when assembling your system. It is important to pair a decent turntable with quality, complementary components. Vinyl provides a great alternative when you are ready to settle back and fire up your sound system, an opportunity to rediscover the authenticity and unique flavor of certain analog recordings.