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iPod Beware: Vinyl Records are Making a Comeback

by Rebecca Suzan


Vinyl records are eating away at the iPod's popularity.
Walking down the street in any crowded metropolis, you are bound to see people conducting multi-person business calls on their cell phones or checking their e-mail while simultaneously downloading music through a mobile device. We are unarguably immersed in a digital age where the personal has been traded for the impersonal in exchange for speed and efficiency.

While most of us look toward the future for the next exciting innovation, there are some who are reverting to the technology of the past. Slowly but steadily, the distribution and utilization of vinyl records is being resurrected in American popular culture. Disc jockeys and middle-aged collectors who are wistfully seeking the nostalgia of their youth are no longer the only categories of consumers who are buying vinyl records.

Generation Y has apparently discovered that their dad’s old boxes in the garage are not just a collection of funny-looking Frisbees. This trend may be heralding a new crop of consumers who are willing to trade in convenience and speed for a more complete entertainment experience.

Brian, a manager at the Princeton Record Exchange, an independent music shop in Princeton New Jersey, says there is a demand for new vinyl as well as the resale of older albums. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the number of vinyl units shipped by manufacturers in the United States increased 36.6% from 2006 to 2007. Trevor Nichols, a twenty-one-year-old audiophile from Howell, New Jersey has a burgeoning collection of about two-hundred vinyl records. He combs flea markets and record stores for vinyl and even turns to websites like Ebay if he is in search of a particular album.

“If I walk into a record store with money I usually leave with none,” Nichols says.

At a cost of between ten and twenty dollars per new album, investing in vinyl records seems like an expensive hobby given the state of the U.S. economy and the availability of comparatively cheap, ninety-nine-cent digital music downloads. In addition to the expense of the music itself, the listener needs to own a turn-table in order to play their records. So why are people willing to use money they do not have to buy music that does not fit in with today’s portable lifestyle? The answer on a superficial level is the quality of the music.

“I like the sound a lot better,” Nichols says, “It’s much warmer than digital audio and you can hear the nuances better.”

However, the motivation for buying vinyl runs deeper than simply appreciating the sound quality. Vinyl records offer an atmospheric experience unlike any other to a modern listener. Physically searching for the albums, taking the record out of its sleeve, placing it on the turn-table and anticipating the needle’s contact with the grooves of the record is more captivating than simply clicking “buy song” on iTunes.

“Vinyl connects you with the music more because you’re able to listen to it on the medium it was originally recorded on,” Nichols says, “On the internet you can find just about any album you could think of and load it on to your iPod and have it with you wherever you go, but that also makes you appreciate it less.”

The revival of vinyl records shines a revealing light on our society’s appetite for new technology. The desire of vinyl buyers is to transform their music-listening from the push of a button to a distinctive, time-consuming experience. This marks a backlash against the current right-here-right-now movement and signals a possible reversal of that trend. Surely if this reversal ever does take place in earnest, we will all be immediately notified on our Blackberrys.

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