Will OPEC Ruin America’s New Love Affair With Vinyl?

Jul 25th, 2008 // 23 Comments

sarabarelliesreally.jpgAs evidenced by the stack of USB turntables for sale at my local Costco this week, vinyl has reemerged in the mainstream, thanks to the appeal/illusion of the format’s “warmer” sound and the resurrected idea that an album can be something large and pretty to show off to your friends. However, rising petroleum costs mean that the price of producing and distributing vinyl is only going to get higher. So how long will this particular form of fetishism last?

But while future yard sale dollar record boxes are getting a new supply, vinyl pressings are expected to get pricier because of the higher price of petroleum, from which vinyl is made. The pressing plant used by Sub Pop records, for example, recently raised its prices, citing petroleum costs as one reason.

At United Record Pressing, in Nashville, Tenn., Jay Millar, director of marketing, noted that the industry is based, in every sense, on petroleum, from the vinyl itself to the oil that keeps the machines lubricated to the gas used to transport records, which are heavier than CDs.

“Realistically there’s not a component involved in our manufacturing that hasn’t gone up,” he said, noting that the company is weighing a price increase. “I think it’s inevitable.”

Putting an album out on vinyl is a bigger commitment than making a CD, said Mike Jones, the CEO of CDForge in Portland. Last year, the company’s volume of vinyl work doubled over 2006, and Jones expects a similar increase this year. The basic cost of a CD is about $1 per unit; for vinyl, which is a more labor-intensive process, it’s more like $4-$8 per unit for the initial pressing. “The artist and the record label really have to believe in its importance,” he said.

CDForge doesn’t press vinyl itself; the company deals with Rainbo Records, in California, where the cost of vinyl’s gone up since the start of the year. “It’s gone up 11 percent since January 1st, and I understand another increase is coming, about a 4 to 6 percent increase,” said Steven Sheldon, the company president. Including gas prices, the per-record cost has probably gone up 20 to 22 cents a record, he said.

Not mentioned, but vinyl is also a greater reach for retailers, since the record format has generally been non-returnable to distributors. (Watch out for a sale on those Sara Bareilles LPs in a few months!) Thankfully for those producing vinyl, the format seems less sensitive to price increases, since the lure is less connected to the actual music than the pride of ownership, at least in some cases. The compact disc has clearly lost its intrinsic value, but the record industry still has a chance to find its way by selling vinyl at Hot Topic locations.

Will oil prices sink the vinyl record boom? [The Oregonian via Coolfer]

  1. Ned Raggett

    Wait, was there actually a call for the Metallica-meets-orchestra live album on vinyl?

  2. natepatrin

    Didn’t this happen in the ’70s, and wasn’t one of the results a higher proliferation of those awful ‘DynaFlex’ RCA albums?

  3. Anonymous

    “thanks to the appeal/illusion of the format’s “warmer” sound and the resurrected idea”

    Way to stand up for MP3′s, you’re clearly not buying into the trends! Wahoo! I can practically smell the “I hated this before you did” sentiment coming off of this.

  4. Maura Johnston

    @HuckNPluck: It’s a take-your-pick thing, actually. Because if the word “illusion” hadn’t been in there, someone would have piped up, saying that if the records aren’t remastered, it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s playing on vinyl or CD or a half-melted cassette, etc., etc. (Trust me, I’ve seen it happen.)

  5. Anonymous

    “So how long will this particular form of fetishism last?”

    Well, as long as people want it to last, actually. There’s nothing to say that today’s young vinyl enthusiast has to feed the RecordCo machine and buy over-priced new major label record albums.

    In Nashville, home of United Record Pressing, stores like Grimey’s, Phonoluxe, and The Great Escape literally have thousands of records ranging from $1 on up…plenty to chew on for any PVC enthusiast, from motheaten old Boston and Journey albums to classic country, rare punk, funk and metal, and everything else under the sun.

    Across the country there are hundreds of used record retailers, Goodwill Stores, and other outlets with similar vinyl inventories. Why buy a new album for $15 when you can feed your jones with 6 or 8 vintage albums for a couple bucks apiece?

  6. BBDisk

    All plastics are petroleum products. CDs, DVDs, CD ROMs, etc – these are made with polycarbonate plastics which are petroleum resins. OPEC is ruining everyone’s day.

    As for the “illusion” – the real evil illusion is that when you buy an MP3 you actually “have” something. You don’t. Yu just have permission to play it. You can’t sell it or even give it away without breaking the law. At least, if times get tough, I can sell some records and get some real money.

    As well, the worthlessness of MP3 is further bolstered by the fact that they give them away for free if you buy the vinyl.

    But you’re right – remastering to avoid the horrible compression schemes that they employ for CD is a must. CD and MP3 suck largely because of “The Loudness Wars” and the distortions introduced by heavy compression.

    - Big Black Disk

  7. Ahh! Jim lad!

    I get into vinyl/CD debates with my hipster friends pretty frequently. Yes, vinyl sounds nice. But with the size of both my music collection and theirs, it’s just impossible to keep everything in vinyl or even in CD. (They know this, but they still say vinyl sounds better than anything else and people who love vinyl just love good sounding music more.) You have to suck it up and rip 320kpbs stuff, which honestly, with a nice set of headphones, really sounds pretty good. At least to me. Vinyl puritans that I’ve run into have this sort of… well, puritanical air to them. Vague mentions of, “people with good ears” and all that who apparently love music more than the rest of us who don’t own any vinyl. It’s sort of an annoying, Pitchfork-esque trump card. Personally, I feel that vinyl’s highly overrated from a practical standpoint and because, really, 320kpbs rips sound pretty good to my ears. Piles and piles of vinyls just take up too much space! Plus, telling hipsters I don’t like vinyl is fun.

  8. Anonymous

    To me, this seems like a moot point: I’ve been into vinyl for nary more than ten years (I’m barely of drinking age) and vinyl has always contributed to a significant portion of my music collection. Some people just want the original piece of music in tangible form for their collection, simply because it is something you can hold and cherish and value, and not some mp3 which can be downloaded and deleted with simple, terrifying ease. The vinyl itself almost places more value on the music it contains because of its inherent tangibility, while mp3s are nearly devoid of any aesthetic or monetary value, and as such are easily discarded when neccessary. Which is harder for a music collector: discarding a record collection which may have taken years to establish, or deleting a computer of mp3s which may have taken half an hour to illegally (or legally) download?

    Sound quality seems to remain a dominant fulcrum for discussion, however. Vinyl does sound “warmer”, and vinyl collectors do have a point about better sound quality: even 320kbps files experience pitch clipping, such that the bass or treble reach too high and an audible, or at least discernable, muffling is heard. On vinyl, this does not occur because each pitch is pressed into the vinyl, and therefore, no form of clipping can occur, where as on a digital file the computer has an arbitrary pitch limit.

    /end science lesson.

    @Rev.Keith: Excellent explanation of what it is to “dig”. Finding the specific (or unexpectedly discovered) vinyl you search for can be nearly, and often times just as pleasurable, as listening to the record itself.

  9. janine

    @Rev.Keith: Well, you might want a mix of old and new things, wouldn’t you? But yeah, vinyl’s great for exploring back catalogs and taking chances.

    @Ahh! Jim lad!: I might argue that many music collections are needlessly large. I see a lot of mp3 players filled with things that were downloaded on a whim for free and never get really listened to. Perhaps I’m not a serious listener, but my 10 crate, roughly 700 album collection leaves me with a lot of options. An 80G mp3 player can hold up to 20,000 songs which translates to about 2,000 albums. Can you really process that many? I mean really listen?

    That’s not to say one’s better than the other (really, I don’t need you people to drive up demand) but potential collection size isn’t a problem I’ve seen.

  10. Captain Wrong

    @HuckNPluck: and all the hipsters just now discovering records and raving about how “warm” they are isn’t a trend? Give me a break.

    Dynaflex 2.0 baby!

  11. heyzeus

    “Including gas prices, the per-record cost has probably gone up 20 to 22 cents a record, he said.”

    I think that answers your question in one sentence. If 20 cents ruins “america’s love affair with vinyl,” it was more dry humping on the couch than actual love affair.

  12. revmatty

    @Ned Raggett: In our discussions at work about how much Metallica has sucked for some time that was universally declared their most embarrassing album until St. Anger.

  13. jasonelias

    Where to start…Dynaflex wasn’t started because of the oil crisis, it was started in the late ’60s.

    I’m one of the few people who can find something to like in all formats. That said, there is no “illusion” when it comes to warmth from vinyl, it’s basically an irrefutable truth. Even a cursory listen would prove the point. It’s been proven for decades. I have about 1,500 of them, not the most but enough to certainly know the pros and cons of the format in various circumstances.

    @puhctek: Very true about vinyl and 320kbps. The sound at 320 kbps is acceptable, even good at times but the bass is diminished and the highs are often on the shrill side.

  14. cassidy2099

    Since when does temperature have a sound? Does this mean my ipod is full of “cold” music. Is this the same as referring to song as a “hot track”?

  15. Anonymous

    @heyzeus: If they raised prices that 20 or 25 cents, fine. But the jump in raw materials is justification for a 1-3 dollar hike, which could slow sales.

  16. Anonymous

    @cassidy2099: It’s digital, so you don’t get the full spectrum of tonal ranges associated with a vinyl record. Just put a record on the player.

  17. Maura Johnston

    @jasonelias: But is there a discernible difference when albums have been mastered for dissemination via CD? I know that there are definitely people who have told me “there’s no difference unless the analog output is taken into consideration.” They could just be blustering, of course (it *is* the Internet, after all), but it makes me wonder.

  18. jasonelias

    @Maura Johnston: Sounds like blustering. The CD can’t quite capture what an album can do. It comes very close, but something’s always amiss. There’s something about a needle and a groove (as simplistic as it sounds) that’s very tough to beat and replicate with or without an analog output in the mix.

  19. Captain Wrong

    @jasonelias: “That said, there is no “illusion” when it comes to warmth from vinyl, it’s basically an irrefutable truth.”

    Wow. How do you measure that? An audio thermometer? A warm-ometer?

    Seriously, that is one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever read.

  20. Hyman Decent

    I like my music without hisses and pops, thanks.

  21. jasonelias

    @Captain Wrong: I hope you’re being facetious. I was talking about aural warmth. That’s why people say vinyl has a “warm” sound and CD’s often sound cold.

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