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Demand for vinyl records soars, manufacturers struggle to keep pace

  • 25 Jun 2022

As younger generation is buying turntables and artists have been moving to vinyl, dozens of record-pressing factories have been built to try to meet demand in North America, and it's still not enough.

Record album sales revenue grew a whopping 61 percent in 2021 and reached $1 billion for the first time since the 1980s. ( AP )

Demand for vinyl records has been growing in double-digits for more than a decade, with sales reaching $1 billion last year, after the arrival of the compact disc nearly killed off record albums.

Vinyl pressing machines were sold, scrapped and dismantled by major record labels. But four decades later, with resuscitated sales, manufacturers are rapidly rebuilding an industry.

The industry "has found a new gear, and is accelerating at a new pace,” said Mark Michaels, CEO and chairman of United Record Pressing, theUnited States’ largest record producer, in Nashville, Tennessee.

With music tours cancelled, and people stuck at home, music lovers began snapping up record albums at an even faster pace.

Record album sales revenue grew a whopping 61 percent in 2021 and reached $1 billion for the first time since the 1980s.

The sales were far outpacing growth rates for paid music subscriptions and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Failing to meet demand

Record albums nearly spun into oblivion with sales overtaken by cassettes before the compact discs brushed both aside.

Then came digital downloads and online piracy, Apple iPods and 99-cent downloads. Streaming services are now ubiquitous.

But nostalgic baby boomers who missed thumbing through record albums in their local record stores helped to fuel a vinyl resurgence that started about 15 years ago. These days, though, it's more than just boomers.

A younger generation is buying turntables and albums, and a new generation of artists like Adele, Ariana Grande and Harry Styles have been moving to vinyl, said Larry Jaffee, author of “Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century.”

Manufacturers had to start nearly from scratch. The major labels shuttered their plants long ago, but new ones are coming online, and there are now about 40 plants in the US — but challenges remain.

Nationwide, backlogs are six to eight months because of growing demand, and supply chain disruptions of raw materials, including vinyl polymers, have caused problems, Michaels said.

No one knows the ceiling for record growth because of the constrained supply, said Chris Brown, vice president for finance at Bull Moose Records, a record store chain in New England.

New releases often fail to meet demand, and reorders take even longer, leaving little capacity for lesser-known eclectic albums, he said.

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