Arts, Culture & Media

CD sales droop, vinyl makes comeback


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Turntables today are more likely to be seen on stage with DJs rather than in stereo systems. But, as the holiday season begins, some may note joyfully that the vinyl era has not died -- as some of the digital, gadgety types might have us believe. Vinyl never really left.  Most people still have a heavy box full of vinyl records somewhere in their house.

With the explosion of intangible mp3s, music may have lost its luster as a nice Christmas gift. But it looks like music might have a savior in the form of an old friend: good old reliable vinyl. That's right, scratch-prone black platters are making a comeback. But why has vinyl returned from certain extinction to a cool way to listen to music?

Steven Hyden, staff writer for "The Onion's AV Club" and contributing writer to their new book, "Inventory," thinks it's a physical thing. 

"If we are talking about people that like actual, physical forms of music, and there are still people out there who are like that, vinyl offers a more intrinsically cool aesthetic experience," says Hyden. "If you like artwork, and you like liner notes, this is something that you can actually hold in your hand. It is a lot more pleasing than a CD.

Hyden admits the market for vinyl is small, but says that with CD sales shrinking, vinyl may just be the thing that saves record stores.

"Most people still like the convenience and portability of mp3s, but now that the people who are buying CDs is dwindling, this core audience that loves vinyl are going to be the one keeping the record store in town alive. If you still go to the record store, you have probably noticed that the vinyl section is growing while the CD section is shrinking."

Will Welch, associate editor for "GQ," says that he, too, is pulled in by the romance of vinyl records.

"There is also an audiophile thing going on here, too. If you are not listening to earbuds through your iPod, you are in the comfort of your own home with a real proper stereo and some good speakers -- you can't beat the warm sound of vinyl. A lot of people complain about the compression that is happening with mp3s. The sound quality is just not as good."

Archer Records in Detroit, Michigan, is one of the few remaining places vinyl records are still manufactured. According to its owner, the majority of the people who are asking for these records are the musicians. They want their music being played on vinyl. 

"They can really hear the difference," said Welch.

"If you are into snooty indie rock stuff, there is a very good chance that you will be able to buy your favorite albums on vinyl right now," says Hyden. "For me, being one of the snooty indie rock people, I have bought a lot of my favorite records on vinyl ... A lot of those bands insist that their music come out on vinyl.

"The cool thing is that if you buy them on vinyl, sometimes they come with download codes for the mp3s, so you can have the aesthetic with the vinyl and also have the convenience with the mp3s all in one package."

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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