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Vinyl’s making a comeback – where are the free downloads?

Record player with vinyl record playing

When did you last buy a record? Vinyl is experiencing something of a comeback, with rocketing sales and new types of buyers. Shouldn’t this increased popularity force record companies to give us free downloads?

Back at Christmas-time, Andy Vandervell opened up a debate about how ebooks should come with a paperback copy so ebook owners wouldn’t feel left out when the presents are being handed round.

As I have no intention of trading in ‘real’ books for digital ones any time soon, this wasn’t a Conversation I felt particularly passionate about. But now I’m beginning to understand Andy’s theory.

Why should we get free downloads?

Since I moved house and dusted off the record player, I’ve been buying a lot more vinyl. On a recent splurge, I noticed that two of the five (brand new) records I bought came with a slip giving me a code for a free download.

While I was mightily pleased to be given this ‘complementary’ download, it did get me thinking. Why should I be pleasantly surprised when I’ve already paid for the track? If it was a CD I could rip it on to my computer (albeit illegally, but hopefully not for much longer thanks to The Hargreaves Report).

OK, it is possible to do some clever format shifting from vinyl to computer, but the quality is never going to be the same. Part of the joy of listening to vinyl is that is has a different, less digital, quality to it, but that quality just doesn’t translate well via computers.

As Andy argued, the film industry has managed to tackle this issue:

‘The majority of major Blu-ray releases now come packaged in ‘triple packs’ where you get the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and a digital copy that can be copied to your PC for use on mobile devices or PCs. Why can’t the same be done for books?’

Absolutely – and indeed, why not the same for vinyl?

A vinyl revolution?

I’m well aware that many feel the same way about records as I do about ebooks: not interested. But there’s been much talk of a vinyl revolution in recent years, putting it firmly back on the consumer map.

Purchasing records is no longer the preserve of DJs and dance music fans – rock, indie and country vinyl have all sold well in the past couple of years, with Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys topping last year’s charts.

The figures may be relatively low, but numbers are rising significantly. According to the Official Charts Company, sales were higher in 2011 than any time since 2005, and sales figures for up until October 2011 were around 240,000 units – a 40% leap from 170,000 in 2010.

So what’s the attraction? As I have previously argued, CDs have had their day – their small scale and questionable quality offers no obvious benefits over downloading tracks straight from the internet.

But if you do opt for downloads you miss out on building a relationship with the music: enjoying the artwork and reading the sleeves; sifting through your collection to decide what goes on next, not to mention having a collection to pass on when you’re gone.

So yes, I – along with many others it seems – will continue to choose vinyl as my primary type of music, but I really hope those download code slips start becoming more ubiquitous.

Comments
Member

A chum of mine – a young bloke – offered to convert
my very large collection of old vinyls for use on the
computer, already rigged to the hi-fi for superior
audio.

Insists he can iron out the imperfections with
wizardry!

Member

My turntable’s currently out of action, which has prompted me to (occasionally) pick up a duplicate copy of some classic LPs on CD or via MP3 download. I feel like a mug for paying the record company twice, but I simply don’t have the time to convert my entire record collection to MP3!

I’d be pretty happy to get a slip for a free download with future LP purchases, but I’d be over the moon if I could get a free download for all my existing vinyl! I can but dream…

Member

You’ll probably find some extremely good deals on eBay for second-hand CD copies of your old LPs – especially if, like me, your musical tastes are out of fashion 😉 I recently bought a CD on eBay for £1.04 – and that was shipped from Germany with free postage!

Member

Good point Richard, getting all those complimentary downloads for LPs in retrospect will be near impossible, as will getting them with second-hand records, which is often how I buy mine 🙁

Member

I have a near-mint Carlos Kleiber’s rendition of Beethoven’s
Fifth and shall see if it sounds nearly quite as good if stored on
computer hard drive.

Member

You could try storing it with “lossless compression”. The quality will still depend on the quality of your DAC converter (the hardware inside your PC) and the sampling rate.

Member

My young computer guru wd certainly know abt
that re DAC converter and “lossless compression”.

The true hi-fi buff of old days wd probably have converted
his LP collections for use on professional Revox open-reel
deck for convenience and ease of listening.

Shall see abt dusting off my Scottish-made
Linn Sondek turntable, with the Ittok arm and Karma
cartridge was amongst the very best turntable setup of
its day…stand corrected if otherwise.

Wonder how much it would fetch if offered for sale
on the net.

Member

It’s great that you have someone to help you convert your records to a good quality, but it’s still a faff. Don’t you think it would be more consumer-friendly to give a free download?

Member

I find this a very curious conversation. Of course, everyone is entitled to listen using any medium they like, but I don’t understand this retro surge towards gramophone records. For me the C.D. was an emancipation. No longer did I have to worry about worn needles, off centre pressings, static and surface noise from dust or careless handling. A symphony could be heard without swapping sides and the C.D. was neat, even if the case was/is substandard.

Regarding sound quality, I have found most C.Ds to be outstanding in this respect. Listening on ‘good’ equipment, the music is full, detailed, round and satisfying. Updating my CD player two years ago showed me that my discs had even more to offer than I thought possible before. I suppose this is difficult to quantify in terms of quality. I can really enjoy the same music on my kitchen system. Some detail is lost but it can still provide uplift and enjoyment. After a while, the ear doesn’t know what it’s missing at that moment.. One man’s hi fi is another’s starter kit and it’s all relative, bu