The Record Mystique: Mysteries of Vinyl or, the second time as farce

This NYTimes story on vinyl has been making the rounds on various music boards since it came out Sunday. Many of the old writers lament that vinyl has been “relegated” to the Style section of the newspaper. Me, I just sigh every time the old myths are trotted out.

[Vinyl] virtually collapsed in the late 1980s with the advent of the compact disc.

No, the record industry chose to kill vinyl. When consumer interest in compact discs was relatively low, distributors started refusing returns on unsold records, while allowing returns on unsold compact discs. This meant that record stores assumed a huge financial risk if they kept stocking large numbers of records. Not surprisingly, CDs started filling up record stores shortly thereafter.

“It’s a customer who wants to have vinyl in their home the same way they want books in their home,” Mr. Wishnow [the founder of Insound, an online music and merchandise company] said. For such a customer, he added, the message is, “ ‘When I can have all the music in the world in the palm of my hand, what does it say about me that I spend $15 to $20 for this format that is a pain to store and move and is easily damaged?’

Records do take up space and are heavy in bulk, but they are in some ways easier to store and index because of their size, and their packaging is considerably less fragile. I was just discussing this with Tobias, who had packed up his sizable DJ record collection: records are less likely to be damaged in a move than CD jewel cases. One of the original selling points of the CD was its portability and its indestructibility. While the CD is more portable (there’s a reason that record players in cars never took off), it is has turned out to also be somewhat fussy as well.

Warner’s “Because Sound Matters” store is something of a miracle. As record sales start inching back up, rather than dropping the price of compact discs and mp3s (as they should do), the record industry has finally found a way to get people to pay more than $20 for a single LP record.

Maybe 8-9 years ago, a joke circulated around the internet that went something like this: the recording industry had finally found a form of DRM that would solve their file sharing problems. It was appealing to consumers but made the digital copying of music difficult and impractical. The technology was described in complex technical terms, and it was given a long, six-word name. It did, however, have a handy abbreviation: “R.E.C.O.R.D.”