How the survival of the LP has beaten all odds

Deutsche Welle
6 Min Read

Germany celebrates Record Store Week from October 19-24. Here’s why the community of fans of LPs just keeps growing – despite the invention of the CD and music streaming.
Bruno owns a collection of at least 5,000 records. The self-described “vinyl freak” wouldn’t ever want to switch to CDs. For one, the large covers of LPs are so much more attractive, he says.

“Take the ‘Spartacus’ soundtrack for instance. The album opens like a book, and a Technicolor version of Kirk Douglas jumps to your face,” smiles Bruno. “That’s artwork – and you’ll never get that from a CD!”

Another argument against CDs is that no one knows how long they can preserve their data, whereas vinyl records have proven their durability – as long as they are handled with care. A few scratches just add to the charm.

Finally, the top argument for vinyl is the richness of its sound, which can’t compare to the cold compressed audio quality of a CD.

Hunting for black gold

People of all ages are now hunting for valuable vinyl treasures, whether online, in flea markets or in second hand record shops. Uwe, the owner of one such store located in an alternative neighborhood in Cologne, knows everything about the music, labels and different manufacturing qualities of vinyl recordings.

He shows an Oscar Peterson album pressed by MPS Records, the first German jazz label. Their recordings are recognized for their high quality. “If you find an MPS record from the 60s or 70s, it can be worth up to 20 euros (over $22).” The value of a record is determined by the condition of the record, but also of its cover.

Uwe compares his clients to stamp collectors. Some professional collectors buy records as an investment. “When the financial crisis started, those who hadn’t lost all their money bought records like crazy,” he says.

Some pay 500 euros for collectible vinyl records, other several thousand. An original pressing of the cult Velvet Underground & Nico album “Andy Warhol,” which was long believed to be lost, fetched a record sum of $155,401 on Ebay.

Predicted death of the LP

At some point in history, it almost looked like the CD would lead to the extinction of the LP.

The new Compact Disc format was introduced at the IFA exhibition in Berlin in 1981. Abba released a CD in 1982 – even before players were actually available on the market. A year later, 700 albums were released on CD, and that number grew exponentially. Amazingly enough, people were ready to pay twice as much for a CD as for an LP.

With their small and sturdy format, the shiny discs were considered miraculous, offering a glass-clear sound and tracks which could be selected by simply pushing a button, without needing to fumble around with the needle of a record player.

Numbers by the German Association of the Phonographic Industry show how quickly the market evolved in favor of the new disc: 71 million LPs and three million CDs were sold in Germany in 1984. Five years later, CDs had a larger share of the German market than LPs, with 56.9 and 48.3 million sold, respectively.

Selling to vinyl virgins

Yet as music streaming and digital formats started spreading, some began predicting the death of the CD. Its sales have been dropping in the last decade. On the other hand, the market for vinyl records has been growing in this same context.

Major labels like Sony and EMI are now lining up their orders at the few remaining record pressing factories. A few years ago, 700 to 1,000 copies on vinyl would be released as special editions of an album. In 2008, a German company in Lower Saxony was commissioned by Metallica’s record label to press 80,000 copies of the album “Death Magnetic.”

Several DJs also work with LPs, contributing to the cult of the format. “It feels a bit like playing a music instrument,” says Patrick, a DJ who enjoys the feel of mixing them.

Now that everyone can get their music online, for little money, vinyl collectors listen to music more consciously.

More and more people are dropping by Uwe’s record store, even though it’s hidden in a backyard in Cologne. Two dreadlocked young men listen to records in the techno section, collecting material for their next DJ set.

Some buyers are definite newcomers: “There are young people who don’t even know that an LP has two sides,” says Uwe. Those are his favorite clients: He lives to share his enthusiasm for vinyl.

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