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.