Almighty Press

April 26, 2009
In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback

By August Brown - Los Angeles Times

Origami Vinyl is one of three new vinyl-only record stores opening next month in Los Angeles.

Sales of such albums were up 89% in 2008, which has fueled a mini-boom in neighborhood record stores in L.A. At least one member of the Who seems to approve.

Neil Schield knows the grim state of the music business as well as anyone; last May, he was laid off from a company at the vanguard of digital music distribution.

But this month, Schield began an unlikely second act: He opened a brick-and-mortar record store in Echo Park, with racks of tasteful inventory carrying price tags as high as $100 -- all presumed liabilities in an age when "digital" and "free" seem to rule the day. For added chutzpah, Schield's shop, Origami Vinyl, exclusively stocks new vinyl LPs, presumed not long ago to be as dead as eight-track tapes.

Moreover, Origami is just one of at least three such shops opening in L.A. this spring; the others are Vacation in Los Feliz and Little Radio, a downtown storefront operated by an Internet radio station and concert promoter. The small boom is the result of a commercial rediscovery and appreciation of vinyl records among collectors and more casual audiences.

"Sometimes I wonder, 'What am I doing?' " Schield said. But "it's the only corner of the physical music business that's growing."

If Schield needed any assurance that he was on the right track, it came even before Origami opened. As his staff was preparing the store one day, Pete Townshend, the legendary guitarist of the Who, paid a visit. Townshend had read a blog item about the shop and dropped by to see if it was open.

The return of the scruffy neighborhood record shop is as unexpected as the revival of vinyl. After CDs first hit the U.S. market in 1983, LPs were deemed largely obsolete. Later, consumers' shift to file-trading and online retail outlets such as iTunes and gutted the storefront music business.

Between 2003 and last year, more than 3,000 record stores closed in the U.S., including such Los Angeles landmarks as Tower Records on the Sunset Strip. Independent shops such as Rhino Westwood and Aron's Records in Hollywood accounted for nearly half the losses, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a database and marketing firm. Today, there are 185 record stores in the L.A. area, down from 259 at the beginning of 2007.

But as mass marketing of LPs faded, some listeners began rediscovering vinyl. It's not just older fans who grew up with the decades-old format who attest to its tangible pleasures -- the arresting artwork, the labor of love that goes into flipping LP sides and the fact that many audiophiles say vinyl sounds better. Younger listeners raised on torrent files can see LPs as a kind of talisman too.

"I've always marveled at every new generation of 15-year-old boys who go to the Doors vinyl section and say, 'Wow, an original Doors LP!' " said Marc Weinstein, founder of Amoeba Music, the three-store chain whose Hollywood branch is among the largest independent retail record stores in the U.S. "Major labels should have capitalized on this years ago."

Slowly they are, by pressing a growing list of vinyl catalog reissues and new albums by marquee artists such as U2. Nielsen SoundScan reported 1.88 million sales of new LPs last year, an 89% increase over 2007. And that figure is almost certainly conservative, as many independent retailers do not report their sales to SoundScan; the service says that more than two-thirds of vinyl albums are sold at indie operations.

Of course, to play a record, you need a turntable -- and the market has responded with low-cost models that are more versatile than their earlier counterparts. Crosley Radio, for example, specializes in retro-styled record players sold in stores such as Target, Macy's and Urban Outfitters. Its basic model retails for less than $80; for a little more, there's a version with a USB port that allows music to be uploaded to a computer. (In addition, many LPs come with free digital download cards.)

"By the end of 2008, over 50% of our business was in new vinyl, which amounts to millions of dollars a year," said Matt Wishnow, founder of the New York-based online music retailer Its turntable sales increased 200% in 2008, with the company shipping dozens daily during the holiday season.

But online retailers are not the only ones profiting from the market for new LPs. Now, it may have reached a point where it can sustain the kind of small independent store once done in by downloading.

Trying again

Origami Vinyl is far from the first attempt at a record store in Echo Park. In 2007, Sea Level Records shuttered soon after a car drove through its Sunset Boulevard storefront -- a metaphor not lost on many in the neighborhood.

But Schield is hoping to fare better, with a new stock of blog-hyped indie rock and the classic hip-hop, folk and world music, set amid a minimalist-vintage decor featuring tungsten-filament lightbulbs and a spiral staircase.

Origami, which opened April 3, also does more than just sell records, serving as the daytime box office for the nearby Echo, Echoplex and Spaceland clubs.

Likewise, Little Radio founder Dave Conway is counting on income from booking concerts at the adjacent Regent Theatre to help pay the rent at his shop, where the windows are decorated with rotating LPs as varied as vintage soul and new local acts like the alt-country band Everest.

"I don't think this is all that crazy," Conway said of his latest venture, opening in May. "Just putting these records up in the windows, you can see how excited people are. With all the cafes and bars here, a record store fits right in."

Over in Los Feliz, Vacation falls squarely in the area's tradition of impressively bearded young men hawking exotic imported albums. "We're banking on people liking vinyl for the long haul," said co-owner Mark Thompson, who also co-founded and runs the experimental-metal label Hydra Head Records. "With CDs, you have an obligation to keep a low price tier. But with vinyl, if you do awesome work, you don't have to worry so much about the cost."

A high price

Though that is true for some collectors, others might think a $25 180-gram double-gatefold LP is more an indulgence than a necessity, especially in today's economy. And the high price of manufacturing, shipping and stocking vinyl won't be dropping soon.

Most of the equipment used to manufacture LPs is antiquated, and that limits potential cost-saving competition, said Don MacInnis, owner of Record Technology Inc., a Camarillo-based vinyl pressing plant that handles independent labels such as Sub Pop as well as major projects like U2's new album "No Line on the Horizon."

"I don't see the market ever getting large enough to start making presses again. Our newest machine was purchased in 1984," MacInnis said. "A big part of this resurgence will be temporary. Many people will soon realize the big pain factor of being a vinyl aficionado. You can make money at it if you price your records high enough, but it's not going to be big dollars."

Even some local devotees are skeptical about the new stores' prospects, given their lack of offbeat used vinyl (though Vacation carries a small selection). "It's all well and good to go out and buy the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Iron & Wine, but you need to have something different and exclusive going on to keep people coming back for that unknown quantity," said Scott Tarasco, an L.A. collector who spends hundreds of dollars a month on LPs. "Quality used vinyl flies out the door. There's got to be something in there that's going to throw me for a loop."

At Amoeba -- whose size and clout give it chain-store competitive advantages alongside its indie credibility with music fans -- new and used vinyl makes up no more than 20% of sales, according to founder Weinstein.

And even with the recent uptick in vinyl sales, the general outlook for music retail still looks grim. In the last year, total U.S. album sales were down 14% from 2007, a figure that includes a 32% gain in digital album sales, according to SoundScan figures.

But such dire statistics don't dampen the enthusiasm of the new retailers, who have faith that the crackle of a vinyl record is one of the few things music fans can rely on.

"To me, it's just awesome that there are all these other new stores," Thompson said. "It reassures me that I'm not doing something totally stupid."

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Article List

November 21, 2013 - New York Times - Records Are Dying? Not Here

March 27, 2013 - Glendale News-Press - It's a matter of record: Burbank's Atomic Records and Backside

December 30, 2012 - Detroit News - As one record shop closes, vinyl music plays on in another

April 20, 2012 - - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick

November 20, 2011 - - In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?

June 9, 2011 - - Curmudgeon Records closes its doors for good

April 16, 2011 - Wall Street Journal - One-Day Record-Store Revival

February 1, 2011 - Charlottesville News & Arts - Plan 9 Changes Location

August 13, 2010 - The Tennesean - Anita Wadhwani: Nashville indie record stores' sales spin in right direction

January 3, 2010 - Delaware News Journal - Delaware music shops get creative to compete with downloads, chain music stores

September 24, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - L.A. independent record shop is still in a groove

August 20, 2009 - CNN Money - You can make money off online music

June 14, 2009 - New York Times - Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore

May 13, 2009 - Medill Reports - Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession

April 26, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback

April 18, 2009 - Charlotte Observer - Record stores band together

April 17, 2009 - Detroit News - Record Store Day spins profits and good beats at Metro Detroit shops

April 17, 2009 - Associated Press - Record Store Day celebrates indie retailers

April 10, 2009 - Detroit News - Street Corner Music moving to Oak Park plaza

April 10, 2009 - Toledo Free Press - New record store shakes up Adams Street

January 8, 2009 - OC Register - Closing date for Virgin Megastore at The Block

October 28, 2008 - Reuters - AC/DC back in "Black" with global smash

September 23, 2008 - Chicago Daily Herald - Independent music stores haven't yet disappeared from suburbia

June 23, 2008 - New York Times - For Tom Petty Fans, the True Sound of Vinyl, Also Captured on a CD

April 19, 2008 - Lafayette Journal Courier - For some, record stores live on

April 19, 2008 - New Jersey Star Ledger - It's Record Store Day. Play it again, Sam!

April 18, 2008 - New York Times - Record Stores Fight to Be Long-Playing

April 18, 2008 - Dallas Morning News - Retailers hope Record Store Day turns up volume at mom-and-pop shops

April 16, 2008 - Timeout New York - Platter Up

December 27, 2007 - Los Angeles Times - Virgin Megastore to close shop

December 16, 2007 - New York Times - For a "Dinosaur," an Exuberant Second Life (Looney Tunes Reopens)

December 3, 2007 - Detroit Free Press - The same old song: Music store closing

November 7, 2007 - Washington Post - Eagles soar past Britney to top of charts

November 4, 2007 - The Ledger - Two Young Entrepreneurs Unafraid of Risk of Going on Records

August 20, 2007 - Billboard - Almighty Taps Hans As VP

June 29, 2007 - ABC News - Long Live the Record Store

June 28, 2007 - Orange County Weekly - Locals Only

June 13, 2007 - Reuters - McCartney's Starbucks album heats up U.S. charts

June 9, 2007 - Billboard - Commentary: Retail Recovery

May 9, 2007 - Columbia Free Times - High Fidelity

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November 20, 2006 - Austin 360 - In Austin, Niche Indies Rule

October 20, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Tower brand could survive

October 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Tables have turned on record stores

October 14, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Small labels lose valuable ally in Tower

October 6, 2006 - Desert Sun - Record Alley remodels

September 27, 2006 - Music & Copyright - Niche Marketing of CD albums continues to rise in the US and Physical Sales overall decline

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September 19, 2006 - New York Newsday - 34 years, and that's not all, folks

August 18, 2006 - The Roanoke Times - Plan 9 Music puts new spin on 5 Record Exchange stores

August 3, 2006 - The Hollywood Reporter - Nervous music retailers face hazy digital future

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July 13, 2006 - Rolling Stone - The iTunes Holdouts

July 11, 2006 - Roanoke Times - Record store's "last dance"

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May 10, 2006 - Detroit MetroTimes - Out of the Groove

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January 16, 2006 - Los Angeles Business Journal - Slipped Discs

January 6, 2006 - Los Angeles Times - Indie record stores doing slow fade out

December 26, 2005 - Los Angeles Times - The Music Stops for Indie Shop

December 1, 2005 - Rolling Stone - Fall Sales Dry Up

October 13, 2005 - Desert Sun - Music snobs rejoice: Independent record stores still thrive in desert

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August 18, 2005 - New York Post - Oldies are now singing a new tune - Music stores go digital

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March 21, 2005 - CMJ - Hart of the Matter

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October 6, 2003 - Reuters - Stones Paint It Black For Retailers

May 31, 2003 - Billboard - Retail Track

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