Philips invented the cassette tape in 1962, first introducing it to music fans a year later. Thanks to its compactness, portability and sound quality, it quickly began to surpass the vinyl record in popularity.
In 1989, Sony Music decided to stop producing the outdated, cumbersome records. Since then, music has enjoyed many formats, including the compact disc, the digital MP3 and, finally, streaming.
Somehow, though, the vinyl record hung on. Now, after a 28-year hiatus, Sony announced it will resume production of the vinyl record.
The details are scant, but the pressing plant will be in a factory southwest of Tokyo, CNN Money reported. It’s unclear what genres of music the company will be producing.
Sony’s move might sound stranger than a Frank Zappa tune, but it isn’t particularly shocking.
Vinyl record sales have been skyrocketing, recently experiencing an annual growth of 10 percent, according to The Washington Post. More than 9.2 million records were sold in 2014, according to Time. By 2015, sales had jumped to $416 million, the highest level since 1988, Fortune reported.
They even gave digital a run for its money. As The Post’s Thomas Heath wrote in December, “In Britain, vinyl sales ($3.02 million) — those petroleum-based discs that you hold gingerly by the edges – eclipsed digital music downloads ($2.6 million) for week 48 of this year.”
“That a format nearly a century old generated 3.6 percent of total global revenues is remarkable,” wrote NPR’s Andrew Flanagan of the vinyl record’s performance in 2016. And “vinyl could account for up to 18 percent of all physical music revenue this year,” CNN Money said, citing a recent report by consulting firm Deloitte.
While the music industry surely enjoyed the profitable surge, it faced an immediate problem. Some, such as Sony, no longer pressed vinyl records. Those that still did couldn’t press them quickly enough to keep up with demand.
The biggest issue is that most record presses closed down when it seemed vinyl was a commercial goner. NPR reported that only about 16 operating presses remain in the United States, most of which are overloaded with demand.
Pitchfork’s Vish Khanna wrote of a common issue plaguing the recording industry: “An artist celebrates a record release show, booked months in advance, but doesn’t actually have the record available at the merch table because of some mysterious hold-up.”
“It’s becoming bad,” Ben Blackwell of Third Man Records told Pitchfork. “There’s two things that are happening: There’s more people than ever pressing vinyl since it hasn’t been the predominant format. That’s coupled with the fact that people who’ve always pressed vinyl — folks like Jack White, Daft Punk, and Radiohead — are pressing more vinyl than ever.”
The reasons for this rise are, of course, personal to each consumer.
Fortune’s Chris Morris wrote, “Vinyl, initially, saw a resurgence as hipsters in their 20s and early 30s sought a way to differentiate their music listening. Albums were old school, filled with hisses and pops that digital music had erased. But those flaws added a depth and warmth to the music that even people who once owned extensive album collections had forgotten after years of listening to digital music.”
In a staunch defense of the vinyl record titled “Why Vinyl Is the Only Worthwhile Way to Own Music,” Gizmodo’s Mario Aguilar argued a different attraction to the medium:
Vinyl has always offered a more intimate experience. The large format feels more substantial and turns the design of the cover and the inserts into satisfying artworks in their own right in a way that a CD never could. There’s something wonderfully interactive about putting on a record, listening to a side, and then flipping it over to hear the other side. It makes the listening experience something in which you are constantly physically and emotionally involved. It’s social, and fun, a far cry from the passive aural experience of CDs or digital.
Whatever the cause, it seems as if the vinyl record’s shelf life has proven far longer than once thought.