The oxymoron “backwards progress” may be the only way to explain what is happening with vinyl sales. During a time when sales of digital downloads and CDs are declining, vinyl sales are on pace to break another 20-year sales record for a fourth consecutive year. Six million vinyl albums were sold in 2013 and 2014 is shaping up to be another record-breaking year with 4 million vinyl albums sold in the United States in the first six months, putting it on pace to reach over 7 million in sales by year’s end.
Since 2009, vinyl sales have not dipped below 2.5 million units annually. Prior to that, vinyl failed to break the 2 million sales mark for 15 years, from 1993 to 2008. The biggest contributor to this year’s surge in sales is Third Man Records founder, Jack White. This year, White’s Lazaretto album broke Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy‘s 20-year record for most vinyl LPs sold in one calendar year in two months. White’s Lazaretto album, released on June 10, sold over 60,000 copies in its first two months and has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide since its release, according to Ben Blackwell, overseer of the record company’s vinyl distribution and manufacturing.
The resurgence comes at a cost, and not just the $50 dollars you shelled out to hear Bob Dylan sing gospel songs. No new record presses have been manufactured since the early 1980s, and Bob Roczynski, President of Record Products of America informed The Washington Post that most of the refurbished machines are now running 24 hours a day, six days a week to keep up with the growing demand. According to Roczynski, those machines were originally created to run for 8 – 10 hours a day, and the increased usage is “wearing the machine out twice as fast.” Two simple solutions: either tell hipsters to stop buying so many Radiohead vinyls, or, more realistically, build new presses. Unfortunately, no record label in their right mind would tell you to stop buying their $30 product, and Roczynski estimates a new record press would cost $130,000.
With vinyl sales pumping $218 million into the worldwide music industry in 2013, the funds to support record press expansions exist. In May, the 65 year old United Record Pressing invested $5.5 million into 16 new record presses. A month later, Jack White employed them for the release of his Lazaretto album.
There could come a point where the demand for vinyl sales outpace the money being spent towards increasing manufacturing resources. Until then, let the records keep spinning.