Part 12 – Vinyl vs CD – A fresh observation

Vinyl versus CD – a fresh observation

Music has now eventually come about full circle, well at least as far as vinyl is concerned. When CD was being hailed as the new King, vinyl just gradually started to disappear and eventually by the end of the 80’s it just wasn’t viable or easy to buy vinyl. Through the 90’s it became virtually impossible to buy any decent vinyl. It seemed that vinyl had eventually been consigned to the dumpster. CD had certainly become the medium of choice, and the acceptance of convenience and ease-of-use factors went unchallenged.

However, the musical supply landscape is continually changing, and the availability of music is far different than it was in the past. CD stores (at least the way we have known them up to now) are rapidly disappearing. This is a worldwide trend and it is a reality. Estimates would predict the eminent demise over as short a period as three to five years, but it could even be shorter. There are many factors that contribute to this situation, but the following would be the most obvious and also the most damaging:

  1. Buying music over the Internet has become easy – as data bundles become cheaper and more accessible, and users have a greater awareness and understanding regarding computers in general, more users are relying on procuring their music this way. Bandwidth has certainly increased dramatically and the transfer of huge amounts of information can now take place at breakneck speed. Anybody remember 56K modems, and even more amazing, did we actually use them?
  2. Storage devices are becoming far cheaper and the variety of players available from a multitude of manufacturers in the market has increased exponentially. As storage becomes bigger the bane of audio has also now been addressed – we no longer have to settle for bad audio quality because the implication of compressed music is no longer such a big issue. With Apple Lossless (by now we all understand that Apple might not be the best solution out there, but then again, what really is?), WAV files, FLAC, and other uncompressed formats, audio can now really be made available to a wide variety of users, without the hassle of large physical formats (or many of them taking up place and requiring periodic maintenance and upkeep).
  3. Bearing in mind that CD has been the most dominant software source up to now, it should be pointed out that electronic music stores make it extremely simple for users to buy only what they like. The old album format as popularised by vinyl releases in the late 60’s leading into the 70’s has irrefutably been replaced by a “buy only what you want” approach. The classic albums of yesteryear were events that we looked forward to – if well-known bands or artists released their most recent album you simply got it. Even though it was not possible to buy only certain songs off the release, it certainly would have would have unthinkable to buy only three tunes off the release. It is commonplace for an artist nowadays to sell only the hit single. Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas and Adele have been shining examples of this phenomenon. The concept album as used widely by many progressive and rock groups is no longer really possible with individual digital downloads, but on vinyl it still lives on, even though very few artists actually release this way, with a few exceptions.
  4. It would appear that since multi-format disc playing machines have been selling, and with the proliferation of the standard size 5” digital disc, many users are even questioning the life span of the most recent formats, like Blu-Ray and other High Definition discs. It might appear to be totally cynical to point out that CD, which was originally touted as “perfect sound forever”, has continually been trying to get better since its inception, but that is really only a limitation of its 16-bit based operation, rather than the reality of what it is being compared to now with uncompressed music being available in an easier format.

One thing is certain – as long as vinyl records are pressed and marketed people will continue to buy them. How long can we expect to get vinyl? The simple answer is as long as there is a demand. The majors have rethought their strategies and now make back catalogue material available to separate companies on a semi-contractual/preferential basis, which in turn means that we get better pressings of older cherished copies. This is a twofold advantage as older copies can be replaced, and new and first time buyers can build up a really decent collection of older classic titles without too much effort. Some companies (like Music On Vinyl) are even releasing old material for the very first time on vinyl, titles that have never been available on vinyl at all, only CD.

In all fairness to CD it is a convenient and reasonably versatile medium when compared to vinyl. But one would think that the supposed superiority of the CD medium would make it a more enduring medium with no decline in sales, yet that is not the case. Data manipulation is and will remain the most important manner to access and enjoy music, and it will only increase and improve with time. Now that the difficulties of music handling has been made so much more simple it clearly stands to reason that it can only improve even further.

Even though there have been major changes in the way that music is enjoyed worldwide, vinyl is one of the few formats that has actually grown continually over the past few years, and all indicators point to further growth as well. What might have appeared to be a singular returning fad is no longer the case and we can actually look forward to much more vinyl to come. With the majority of turntable manufacturers now bringing out extremely competitive entry level models and also a wider range to choose from across their entire ranges, turntable buyers are now much easier to satisfy and equip with decent sounding units. The budget entry level market has also once again made it easier for a new and younger generation of vinyl collectors and lovers to use and appreciate vinyl records. The Hip factor is definitely high and it would appear that the cooler dudes certainly have vinyl on their minds and in their collections.

With local stores on the increase, both for new and also pre-owned vinyl, availability is also no longer a serious issue. Locally Musica has decided to support vinyl in their stores and what initially started out as a pilot project to ascertain the viability of stocking vinyl again, has proven to be more than worth their while, and will be extended to the smaller stores in their chain as well. Currently it is something that has only been done in the larger stores, but the market is clearly ready to run with vinyl. Prices are quite reasonable and the variety (even though it is slightly limited now),will increase quickly as the supply chain becomes established and well-oiled. It would certainly appear that the often asked question of whether vinyl is being produced again has changed to a statement of it never having disappeared in the first place. They simply took a slightly extended holiday in the lean times.