I continue to be bemused by the ongoing return of vinyl LPs. Another year, another set of gains, in both units and revenue. Data from Statistica:

It matches what I was seeing in an RIAA PDF from earlier this year. Vinyl sales are doing very well, thanks, and are the only ownership segment that’s actually rising. Streaming revenue is climbing too, but wow, not enough to make up for all the down segments.

Data again Statistica, this graph Forbes

I think there are a couple of things going on here.

First, the LP surge – yes, of course it’s at least partly a fad. That’s not durable, and the increase in rate of increase is most probably a warning sign.

But aside from that, I think the rise in LP sales may be related to the LP package being a physical/tangible object that’s interesting to have for itself. Certainly, if you’re going to pick a CD vs. a vinyl LP as an interesting physical object, the LP wins. Bigger covers, more interesting art possibilities – the whole drill. But…

I wrote a while ago about how the RIAA made music ownership a negative value. I think that’s still pretty much true, for digital.

But I don’t think that perception ever reached vinyl. Vinyl had been written off by the time the RIAA swung into self-destructive smashy smashy. And I’m wondering if vinyl still caries a weight of ownership that digital no longer does.

I mean, I just had a friend of mine who has never owned a turntable and is the opposite of a hipster say she’s thinking of getting one. This shouldn’t be ignored.

The downside for the artist, of course, is that LPs are a lot more expensive to make – particularly for indies. And smaller living spaces mean less space for storage of any kind of stuff, including LPs. That’s a limiting factor, and while it might become less of one as housing stock rebalances, that rebalancing is a longer cycle, and probably won’t come early enough to matter.

or somebody will find a way to make it their job

The second statement I take from these graphics is that the industry – as of 1st half 2014 – is still both sinking and on fire. That Forbes chart shows year-to-year revenue changes in stark numbers – down categories at $-394m (downloads, CS, synchronisation, others) vs. up categories at $+231m (streaming, vinyl) year-to-year.

That’s a $163m revenue loss. I certainly don’t see how vinyl can staunch that much bleeding. And the streaming revenue gains – while obviously more substantial, and where the industry is betting its future – don’t even make up for the drop in paid downloads. They’re just cannibalising their own revenue streams.

We’re still living in a post-scarcity environment. And there’s no rearrangement of desk chairs that can change that fact. Delay the repercussions a little, sure; stop them, no.

Me, I want to release something on Edison cylinder. It can in fact be done; there’s a company in the UK doing it. And wow, it’s expensive. But if, you know, 20 people want to go in at $50/each for cylinders, I will do it. I will do it in a heartbeat.

No? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. XD

This is Part 11 of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of essays about, well, what it says on the tin. In the digital era, duplication is essentially free and there are no natural supply constraints which support scarcity, and therefore, prices. What the hell does a recording musician do then?