Vinyl once more

Who would have thought that the vinyl record would make a comeback in this digital age? But it has, surprisingly.  In 2016, in a massive reversal of fortune, record sales in the United Kingdom surpassed that of digital downloads.

Almost 30 years after ditching the vinyl record, Japanese conglomerate Sony announced in mid-2017 that its Japanese arm would start manufacturing records once again to meet the growing demand. If things go as planned, the company’s unit in Tokyo will start producing them as early as this year.

Is the adage ‘Old is gold’ proving itself once again? The resurrection of the old style record in the West can be attributed to more stores selling them. What about the Indian market? Even though the scenario is more subdued, things are moving here too.

“Record sales were always there, but the vibrations were absent,” says Prem Kumar Gupta of Symphony Kolkata. “After all these years we feel the excitement again.”  The shop sells around 90 vinyl records a month since 2017.

“Perhaps music started sounding flat, and that’s why people have gone back to records. It has a different feel,” he adds. Md. Ilyas, proprietor of M/s Gramophonic,  a  specialist  in  dealing  with records on Lenin Sarani in central Kolkata,  however,  has  a  different  take. “Records have always enticed customers, but it never reached the heights it was supposed to,” he rues.

The market is wretched, he feels, adding, “How many shops sell records today?  It used to be 500 at one time. Today, maybe there are five recognized shops in the entire city of Kolkata.”

Mohammed Iqbal, a fellow record seller, has been in the business for over five decades. He started with vinyls, moved to cassettes and later sold CDs.

Pondering on the future of people like him vis-à-vis the music industry, he is pretty upbeat. “Say whatever you want to, but the record market has a life of its own.”

The sound quality

Moloy Ghosh, a Delhi-based music restorer, says that the basic sound quality of vinyl is unmatchable. “The depth of sound of a vinyl record can beat the likes of a cassette or a CD player any day.”

Add to that the longevity of a record, one has the perfect combination. The only thing that comes close to records in terms of longevity is a cassette. While a cassette with proper handling can last nearly 40 years, a vinyl record on an average lasts about 60 years, if not more.

Teenage connection

Teenagers are the most impulsive among the age groups. With little or moderate experience, teenagers are more susceptible to falling for a particular trend. For vinyl, it has done wonders.

“More teenagers frequent my shop these days,” admits Ilyas. “Maybe it has something to do with the money too,” he says, referring  to  the  low  cost  of second-hand  vinyl.

Records: One for the future?

While vinyl sales in the West have not dropped since 2006 and culminated as the biggest winner a decade later, the growth is India has not been that noteworthy. However, better returns in 2017 have prompted experts to think positively.

“Today we have the largest catalogue selection for vinyl in India,” says Jojie Mammen, vice president and business head, Sony DADC, India.

In the coming days we will see even new releases on vinyl paving way  to  introduce larger vinyl selection of Indian repertoire  with  vinyl-shopping  going mainstream.”

However, of  late,  there has  been  a lot  of  interest  from  independent  artistes  to  launch  albums  on  vinyl  format,  he  notices.

Another factor which hinders the growth is the cost of a turntable.

“Records have always been a rich man’s game in India.  It was never for the middle class,” says Rantideb Maitra, a connoisseur of music and a scholar. He explains that a top range turntable costs around Rs.  25,000 and above, while a starter level device was no cheaper than Rs.  7,000. That’s how costly it was,” he says, laughing.

Digital download and streaming

It  is  somewhat  like  a  rare  case  of the  predecessor  taking  on  a  successor.  In  fields  like  sports  and  politics, perhaps  it’s  seen  but  not  in  case  of technology. Yet, the unthinkable has happened.  Digital  streaming  and downloading  have  been  humbled  by record sales in 2016, inviting ominous comments  from  experts,  who  have opined that the former medium is inching  toward  the  end. Does it mean a farewell to the YouTube, if at all?

People like Ghosh ‘very rarely’ tune into YouTube to listen to songs, preferring quality over other metrics. However, Maitra opines that YouTube must remain in order for certain records to stay ‘alive.’

Still a second-hand sales market

The Indian vinyl market is still driven by second-hand sales. As a result, it is directly dependent on supply of old records. How do the sellers obtain the records?

“We get them from people who are willing to sell their collection. Maybe it belonged to their grandfather or someone in the family and now these antiques are taking up more space than usual and so the seller wants to get rid of them. So they contact us,” informs Gupta.

Promising a change in the scenario, Mammen adds, “Vinyl is an important part of our business and has been gaining momentum in the last one year. The  vinyl  selection  available  in  India was  limited  to  a  few  international  titles  for  quite  some  time,  but  Sony DADC  has  pioneered  the  effort  in making  available  a  large  range  of  International  selections with  Indian  e-commerce portals. At the same time, it has released a wide selection of Hindi  films  in vinyl  too.”

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