Collateral Damage: Numero Group on the vinyl bubble
Vinyl’s violent sales spike has been a lonely bright spot in what has been a 14 year deterioration in sales of recorded music; retailers now celebrate their very own Record Store Day every April. (...)
This fully emerged market, though, is distinct from what’s been generally termed ‘the music business’. That business is, and has been, fundamentally about manufacturing hits, a volume game with cycles of busts paid for by booms few and far between. The new vinyl game has considerably less in common with the elder hit-chasing model than it does with Upper Deck’s gilding, jersey scraps, pricing schemes and historic scalp clippings. (...)
The limited edition, once a reasonable countermeasure to over-serving demand, has become the groan-inducing lingua franca of the vinylsphere. Call it, in more pessimistic terms, the ‘manufactured rarity’. (...)
It’s now perfectly commonplace that a new LP sells on eBay, for some crooked multiplier of its sticker price, before copies of that same product have been sold out by the retailers. As cognitively dissonant as that fact may be, it’s a fixture of the new vinyl marketplace, especially in light of that most tedious inbred cousin of the ticket tout, the vinyl speculator. Speculators claim no attachment to the music they purchase; rather, they simply hunt more rabidly than you’re willing to, preying afterwards on secondary-market superfans’ desperation. Whether or not such speculators might some day bankroll their children’s educations on blood-splattered Norwegian Metal 7"s remains to be seen. But if the massive bubble in the value of vinyl bursts, the stakes outstrip some speculator’s envisioned summer home in Michigan wine country – also at risk is overall consumer confidence in an already fragile economy for both artists and labels. (...)
Format migration has gone retrograde; vinyl is being institutionalised as the format to possess – but not necessarily to use, of course.
Creating a sustainable vinyl marketplace is going to require more than picture discs, record store days, speculators and coffee-table LPs. Labels and artists should be making viable, well crafted and thoughtfully packaged releases that earn their bin longevity, are by no means limited, and don’t cost arms, legs or bodily fluids.