Is the Record Album Dead? Not by a Long Shot

In 1982, Sony and Philips introduced the compact disc, a digital music playback format that used a laser to read the disc. The compact disc was expected to quickly replace the long play record album (LP) that Columbia had introduced in 1949. The product took off quickly, even at a retail price that was nearly double that of a record album, and sales of record albums plummeted. The CD, as compact discs quickly became known, offered what audio magazines called "perfect sound forever" while offering immunity to the effects of the wear and tear that often left records noisy. The record companies reduced the price of manufacture through improved production methods, and the cost of manufacturing a CD soon fell below that of manufacturing a record. Even so, compact discs continued to sell well at the higher price, making the CD quite a profitable product, indeed.

In order to maximize their profits, the record companies decided to phase out the phonograph record. They told their retailers that they would no longer accept returns on defective albums. This caused many retailers to stop stocking records altogether, and the record album had more or less disappeared from the market by 1990. And then something strange happened. The record began to make a comeback. Sparked by a few artists that demanded that their record companies issue their product in record form, the LP never quite went away. New albums by bands such as Pink Floyd and Metallica were issued in the mid-1990's in LP form, and those releases not only sold out, but now command a hefty premium on the collector's market. A number of independent bands that were signed by small record companies began to issue records in addition to CDs, partly just to be "different" and partly because the band members just liked listening to records. In some cases, in order to spur sales of the record, artists would include an extra song or two on the record that was not included on the compact disc of the same album. Throughout the 1990's and to the present day, several million record albums have been sold every year.

Granted, records are harder to find in stores than they were fifteen years ago, and an interested buyer might have to seek out a collector's shop or buy them online. But new albums by major and minor artists, along with older, "classic" albums, continue to be released in the LP format. Last year, in Japan, EMI Records issued every album by the Beatles in LP form as limited edition items. They sold out quickly, even at nearly $500 for the set. The market for records is smaller than it used to be, but the record album still thrives.

©Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing.

Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm that operates several retail Websites, including AluminumChristmasTrees.net, a site devoted to vintage aluminum Christmas trees and accessories, and RarePinkFloyd.com, a site devoted to rare records, compact discs and memorabilia by the band Pink Floyd.

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