Last week, the amount of money spent on vinyl music in the UK overtook digital downloads for the first time. Records are now firmly in the mainstream, but are they back for good, or is this just a stay of execution?
Ten years ago, the only people buying LPs were a few musty record collectors and the occasional aspiring DJ, but the £2.4m spent on vinyl in the UK last week proves that things have changed.
In a turn of events few, if anyone, would have predicted back then, that figure outstripped the £2.1m spent on digital downloads in the same period.
In an industry that often obsesses over the ‘next big thing’, it seems almost absurd that 15 years after the launch of the iTunes store, we find ourselves returning to a format that’s been around since just after the Second World War.
So why has this happened? Is there something about the LP that makes it truly immortal?
New ways to consume
The latest sales figures do make a good story, but don’t be fooled – vinyl is still nowhere near the most widespread way of listening to music.
According to the British Phonographic Industry, in early 2016, LPs represented less than 2% of overall music consumption.
So if people aren’t really listening to vinyl much, and they’re not downloading music either, what are they doing?
The answer is streaming of course – the UK streamed 26.6 billion songs on services such as Spotify and Google Play in 2015, and the figures from 2016 will no doubt be even higher.
If you include the numbers from free video streaming on sites such as YouTube, it’s over 50 billion plays.
In my opinion, this is the real reason that vinyl sales have overtaken digital downloads.
Through streaming, we’re spending more time listening to music we don’t own and can be pickier with what we spend our money on. If we really like a song, we’ll buy it. However, we like owning physical objects such as vinyl – we feel more attached to them, more emotionally invested than we do with something we can’t see.
Why would I buy an MP3 when I can have something lovely and tangible like a record?
We’re also willing to spend more on each individual record because it’s a more occasional and sentimental purchase.
Do you own vinyl? Have you rekindled your passion for it after its recent resurgence, or has your love for the LP never wavered? Maybe you went digital and never looked back, and now you’re waiting for this fad to blow over?