The Return of Vinyl: The evolution of music technology reveals a surprising U-turn smart marketing can utilize.

From the first recorded musical track, music fans have been looking for better ways to record and play back music. The introduction of the wax record and the record player made recorded music accessible to the population for the first time. It wasn't until the 8-track deck came into being that vinyl records first started to slip from preeminence as the music device for the masses.

The more convenient the music was to access, the more people enjoyed a particular technology. The invention of the Walkman took the tape to the top of the recording industry. At least until the compact disc came and wiped out the tapes.

Now the .Mp3 is taking the music world by storm. You can carry thousands of songs on a device smaller than the palm of your hand. You can download and listen to practically any song in the world anywhere in the world anytime you want. This has put compact discs hot on the heels of the tape-deck in a race to the bottom of the bargain barrel.

The numbers are clear: CD Sales were down more than 8% last year while Digital Tracks were up 8%. More impressive, especially for an industry on the brink just a few years ago, Digital Album sales were up 16%.*

But hidden in between the numbers all the big guys are watching is a surprising statistic that has interesting implications: Vinyl album sales are up 33%.*


That's right: wax is back, baby.

And in a big way. From small indie start-up labels to major corporations, everybody is releasing copies of new albums on vinyl. The return of vinyl may shed some light on a rapidly growing but rarely discussed demographic tentatively labeled the long-attention-spanners. This group is shaking up the music industry and your business could benefit from the lessons they are learning.

The fascinating thing about the resurgence of vinyl is that it points to a rejection of the entire trajectory of music purchasing history. Listening to a record generally requires sitting in one place, listening to one band play approximately four songs, then getting up to turn the record over, and then listening to the same band play approximately four more songs. It is not portable or fast and if you want more than 10 songs, they better be really short.

Why would people suddenly want this option, the one that is the opposite of what people have demanded of music playing devices for decades? The answer may be in the very ubiquitousness of music made possible in the digital age.

An activity that for must of humankind was a complete experience by itself – listening to music – is now a passive, background activity. Music in the mainstream is treated less as something to be experienced and more like something of an accessory. In our OnDemand, high-speed, dot-com world, the experience of discovering and enjoying music (or food, movies, etc.) has been dramatically altered every few years at an exponentially increasing rate.

Take iTunes for example: while it touts itself as having a music store, compare it to an actual music store (if you can find one). There is little physical experience in acquiring music online. There is also very limited interaction with other people. Store-purchased vinyl sales seem to say this community experience of 'hunting and gathering' music is something primal that the virtual world has not yet been able to provide.

Perhaps you can take advantage of this change in direction in the music biz by providing a rich consumer experience for your business or product the way vinyl has done for music lovers for decades. While people love what the digital world can do, the return of vinyl is proving that these days, people still like to have something real to hold on to.

  1. Digital albums, vinyl made a comeback in '09 while CDs slide
Michael White

Michael White

Business Specialist at Doc4 Design