Are we dropping digital? The Renaissance of vinyl and the printed word

Could flat polyvinyl chloride and paperbacks actually be things of the future, and not the past?

I’ve been doing work recently for a client who is involved in vinyl and records. I really enjoy working in this sphere – partly because it’s an interesting area but also, more personally, because music is a passion of mine. When I listen to something on vinyl I feel that the sound quality is different. Better, even. Surely I’m not the one one? People want to hear things properly, I think, rather than just ‘on the fly’ / on their phones – live streamed or instantly downloaded.

There’s something, too, about not being able to switch from one song to another so easily (ie. when you have to physically change a record). It reminds me of those concept albums I loved growing up, that were recorded to be played through and not just listened for three seconds before we got distracted by something else.

The question that’s been on my mind is: is this part of a wider trend amongst groups of people who have interests in concert venues, radio stations and more authentic – or perhaps more antiquated – ways of listening to music? Yes we live in the age of Spotify and Soundcloud but could it also be that vinyl and live music are in the midst of a Renaissance? Back in 2015 Time Magazine reported on the rapidly growing numbers of ‘purists’ who were flocking to vinyl, citing a Wall Street Journal article referencing a data showing sales of records as higher than ever since 1991 (when these sales began to be measured). (Full article here: http://time.com/3663568/vinyl-sales-increase/).

Apparently, it’s the sound quality that’s so alluring, as well as a growing desire to reject the ‘throwaway music culture’ that’s resulted from digital music: “While everyone from DJs to your grandfather has been saying for years that the sound on vinyl is richer, warmer and clearer than what’s being released online, it might not just be music snobbery talking. Most industry experts agree with them to an extent,” wrote journalist, Megan Gibson.

More recently in January this year, The Guardian reported that record sales were at an all time high (www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jan/03/record-sales-vinyl-hits-25-year-high-and-outstrips-streaming), which seems initially strange given that music technology is also at an all time high. But perhaps it’s not so strange after all… Journalist Hannah Ellis-Petersen insisted that people were looking to ‘tangible music’ hence why LP sales went up last year by 53%: “The deaths of some music world giants was a key driver in vinyl sales, as people invested in records as a mementos,” she wrote.

It’s not just us oldies either. “People think millennials just stream and are just digital but actually I think we are going to see increasingly over this coming year that young people still want something tangible and real and that’s where vinyl is taking on the role that the CD used to have,” said Vanessa Higgins, the CEO of Regent Street and Gold Bar Records.

So what about literature? All this got me thinking about other artforms too. Is there a similar feeling amongst some bookish types – an emerging group of people who value the published book over the ebook? Sure enough, when I looked into it, it seemed that book buyers were getting more excited too (http://time.com/3661173/book-sales-increase-ereaders-slump/). Just like we / they want to own the physical medium through which the music is played, we / they also want the physical medium through which the book is read. And so it’s just like a fine wine… some things get better as they age.