Why Do Music Lovers Still Prefer to Buy Records?

In the late 1940's, the 45-RPM record replaced the 78-RPM record. The 45 was smaller, less breakable and could be made and sold more cheaply. Despite these advantages, it took ten years before the 78 became obsolete, and in the meantime, record companies sold their product in both formats. In 1982, the major record companies introduced the compact disc, which offered a smaller size, "perfect" sound, and less likelihood of damage in day to day use. As the compact disc offered a much larger profit margin than did the long-play record album (LP) the record companies were eager to rid store shelves of records once and for all. Given that the 78 lasted ten years after the introduction of the 45, it seemed likely that the LP would be gone from the market by 1990. The expected disappearance of the LP never happened. Despite the efforts of the music industry, music fans and collectors not only continue to buy records today, but sales of records and record-playing equipment are on the rise.

Each year in January, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is held in Las Vegas. At this event, audio and video manufacturers show off the latest and greatest in their product lines. An unusual sight this year was not the large number of cutting-edge compact disc players, but the largest number of record turntables that had been seen at the event in years! Sales of both new and used records are hot, and equipment manufacturers are eager to reintroduce the turntables they quit making years ago. Why are record sales increasing when compact discs are supposed to provide perfect sound in an unbreakable format? There are several reasons:

  • Price. Price is always a factor when consumers buy anything and the prices of new and used record albums are less than the prices of new and used compact discs, respectively. Used CDs may sell for $5-8; used record albums sell for $3-5
  • Physical size. A lot of people prefer the larger size of record albums. They don't store as easily as compact discs, but the covers and lyrics are easier to read, and the product feels more substantial. Buyers feel like they're getting "more" for their money, even if it's just extra weight.
  • Sound. The digital sound of compact discs has a certain cleanness and purity to it, but many listeners find the sound of compact discs to be "artificial" or "metallic", lacking the "warmth" of the sound of a record. Arguments have been going on for years, and fans of compact discs claim that there really is no difference in sound, but millions of record fans would probably disagree.
  • Nostalgia. A lot of Baby Boomers grew up listening to records, and records have a fond familiarity to them that listeners like.
  • New record albums continue to be released every day. Aided by artists who are still recording who demand that their albums be released as both records and compact discs, such as Diana Krall, Pink Floyd, and Metallica, record album sales continue to thrive. Despite industry efforts to kill the format back in the 1980's, It appears that the record album will continue to live on, well into the twenty-first century, and music fans couldn't be happier about it.

    ©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 by the band Pink Floyd.

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