The future of vinyl?

February 2, 2009

Diesel Sweeties on Vinyl

[click image for full-size version at Diesel Sweeties]

So, in the comments to a previous post, there was a brief discussion on the future of vinyl records. Aaron char Manders quoted the CEO of Newbury Comics as describing vinyl as a ‘novelty,’ a description which suggests a certain transience.

Here’s a couple of starting points for discussion:

  1. In the world of electronic music, long a stronghold for vinyl, there is a steady movement towards digital music – so much so that next Friday, there’s an underground party in San Francisco billed as ‘Nothing But Vinyl’ and featuring Sammy Dee and Marc Schneider.
  2. If you look at the top ten vinyl sellers last year, there is a solid mix of old (Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon), new (In Rainbows, Fleet Foxes, and Portishead’s Third), and, notably,  indie classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Given that vinyl is currently, as Aaron memorably put it, ‘an unassuming pimple on the large, albeit slimming, butt of CDs,’ will vinyl remain a viable, if niche, medium indefinitely? Or is this the faddish last gasp of popularity before vinyl fades forever? I’d be interested in arguments on both sides – what do we think?

MP3: Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945 [buy]


  1. Recently I have been listening to a lot of old vinyl and it is an interesting counterpoint to the super-genius-party-mega-mix (or what ever iTunes calls it): you pick a record, you play the whole side of the record in sequence and then most likely, the other side, then you pick another record and repeat. I admit to liking some of the strange and pleasant and unexpected juxtapositions of party-mixes from digital collections but it is also fun play the discs one at a time.

  2. One issue may be one of the features that makes vinyl great – its size. Plain and simple, it takes up quite a bit of space whereas those digital files take up none.

    As computer storage capacity grows grabbing FLAC or high quality WAV files may become the standard, which throws a lot of quality arguments out the window.

    Vinyl will always be around and probably will become second to digital one day, but I just can’t see it become the format of preference. Especially with the erosion of the album.


    Ps. I was paraphrasing Bob Lefsetz about the pimple thing…don’t want people to think I’m plagiarizing.

  3. Aaron, that’s an interesting point – as I understand you, digital files offer an indistinguishable experience from CDs, so it’s CDs that will be supplanted. As vinyl offers a fundamentally different experience (see Paul’s comment above, and I know Justin has commented elsewhere about the physicality of records), it’s more likely to endure.

  4. Agreed and agreed.

    I think we all recognize that the experience of vinyl is wholly different than digital.

    Also, vinyl is much more agreeable to listen to in groups. There is less skipping around and a warmth about the whole situation that is not afforded by other formats.

  5. I think size explains a good deal of the laserdisc’s unflagging popularity as well. 😉

    To me, vinyl has never even been alive — it’s a nostalgic medium and not a practical one. That I’ve listened to albums on vinyl before is only because I enjoy a little deliberate anachronism; I have a second-hand electric typewriter for much the same reason. I *think* I have a friend with a turntable, but I’m not sure he’s unboxed it since he moved a year ago…

  6. Thanks for being brave and asserting the contrary view, Tim! I kind of feel that vinyl is the hot thing right now because it’s on the verge of extinction. But I do think it’s possible that it’ll live on, if only as a charming anachronism.

    My impression is that, in the DJ world, it’s been steadily on the decline since you could replace your big bag of records with a laptop running Scratch Live – it’s just impossible to match the flexibility and scalability of going digital. Having an event called ‘Nothing But Vinyl’ suggests that we are getting close to the end of the era of the record.

  7. I once saw an ironic tee shirt that read, “The only good format, is a dead format,” or something.

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