BALTIMORE – Audiophiles like Dave Gibson prefer to be able to see and touch their music, so they are turning to a device invented by Thomas Edison over a century ago: the vinyl record.
“I like to have a physical product I can feel,” said Gibson as he flipped through records at the Sound Garden music shop in Baltimore. “Music these days is so impersonal. Vinyl is a more real experience.”
Gibson isn’t the only consumer hungry for the musical medium of days past. Figures released last year by the Recording Industry Association of America show sales of vinyl records – singles and albums – have jumped from 1.9 million units in 2007 to 5.9 million units in 2011. Over the same period, sales have risen from $26.9 million to $124 million.
Over the last year, growth in vinyl sales has outpaced that of digital downloads, CDs and other formats. Record sales increased 31 percent between 2010 and 2011, compared with an 11.7 percent increase for digital downloads over the same period.
Local record stores have taken notice.
Jimmy MacMillan, a manager at the Sound Garden said sales of vinyl records make up approximately 20 percent of their business, with sales of CDs and DVDs making up the rest.
“(It’s) a real strong number,” MacMillan said. “I might be one of the only ones that believes it, but I’m a big believer that vinyl sales are going to overtake CD sales in the next 10 years.”
There are two common forms of records that are popular today. The 12-inch LP spins at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, and the 7-inch EP spins at 45 rpm. Most modern record players are capable of playing both.
MacMillan said some consumers prefer vinyl because they think it provides better sound quality and they like owning their music in physical form.
“Music is pretty much transported in something you can’t see any more. You download zeros and ones, you buy these mp3s and intangible things you can’t hold. So people like to have something … to show their friends, to put on their wall,” he said.
Part of what has driven interest in vinyl was the advent of “Record Store Day,” April 16th, an event created by several music enthusiasts in 2007 to celebrate independent record stores.
Last year was the most successful Record Store Day in the event’s history. Album sales at independent record stores increased over 39 percent the week of April 16, 2011, from the prior week — an increase of 180,000 units — according to market analyst Neilsen SoundScan.
Vinyl emerged from a rough period in the late 1990s, MacMillan said, when many manufacturers stopped pressing it.
“It’s like the cockroach of the music industry,” MacMillan said. “It refused to go away.”