May 13, 2009
Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession
by Jordan Melnick
"I love records," said Stephen Koza, while shopping for vinyl LPs at the Lakeview Reckless Records. "My favorite kind ... to buy are unusual covers, hand-made stuff."
Itís lunchtime on a typical weekday and Reckless Records downtown is packed. Dave Richardson, a 26-year-old legal clerk, has stopped in on his break to shop for LPs, those 12-inch, non-biodegradable vinyl discs that have been made obsolete many times over, most recently by MP3s.
Why would anybody pay for vinyl when thereís so much free digital music on the Internet? Why opt for a format that hardly fits in a backpack when the iPod can put up to 20,000 songs in a back pocket?
"I like the idea of owning a piece of physical media," Richardson said.
He isnít alone. Despite the MP3 takeover of the music industry, more and more audiophiles are turning to vinyl for an old-fashioned listening experience. And after 19 years in business in Chicago, British-owned Reckless Records of London Inc. is reaping the benefits.
The companyís three locations-Lakeview, Wicker Park and the Loop-sold 136,000 LPs in 2008, up about 38,000 from the year before. Despite declining CD revenue, Recklessís total sales climbed to $4.2 million last year from $3.8 million in 2007. The uptick will allow the company to move its Lakeview store to a bigger location at the end of May.
To Reckless general manager Bryan Smith, vinylís resurgence comes down to consumer desire for a hands-on listening experience.
"People are rediscovering the artifact of music, being able to hold the physical product," Smith said. "They like the mobility of the MP3, [but] it doesnít give you a physical relationship with bands."
Recklessís increased vinyl sales mirror a national trend. There were 1.9 million new LPs sold in the U.S. last year, an 89 percent increase from 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales. CD sales fell 19.7 percent in the same period.
In Nielsenís East/North Central Region-which includes Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana-LP sales were up 119 percent last year and rose 56 percent through the end of April.
The rise in LP sales is an anomaly in a suffering music industry, which saw 3,000 record stores close nationwide between 2003 and last year, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a market research firm. In Chicago, 38 stores closed in that time.
A typical LP at Reckless costs between $7 and $25, though some rarities can sell for more than $100. With so much music free for the taking on the Internet, consumersí willingness to fork over cash for LPs might seem extravagant. But Kip McCabe, store manager at Recklessís Lakeview location, sees vinylís comeback as a reaction to the digital-music revolution epitomized by the iPod.
"I feel like [listening to MP3s] takes out a decent percentage of what the experience was meant to be to begin with," McCabe said. "I think the first thing you lose is the artistsí intention of how they wanted their art to be received."
Sales are down this year at Recklessís three locations, but the upswing in vinyl consumption has helped Reckless weather the recession as consumers take comfort in concrete assets like LPs during hard times, Dylan Posa, manager at the Loop location, said.
"When times get tough you like to have what you own around you," Posa said. "Itís sort of hard to touch an MP3 and say that you own it."
Recklessís trade-in business is another aspect of the company cash-strapped music collectors find attractive.
"People right now need money and thatís something we hand out," McCabe said. "We hand out cash for product."
LP lovers espouse everything from cover art to sound quality to the smell of vinyl itself. And with affordable turntables now on the market, some with USB ports that enable LP-to-MP3 conversion, the hands-on music experience and the portable one have converged. Many MP3 lovers that need more storage have turned to a simple cloud backup by ElephantDrive.
Michelle Ishikawa, 22, a Columbia College Chicago student, used words like "real," "authentic" and "tangible" when explaining her attachment to vinyl at Recklessís Lakeview store.
Stephen Koza, 26, from Brooklyn, N.Y., described an aversion to buffet-style music consumption.
"You can download all you can eat, but [listening to LPs] takes a little more devotion," Koza said. "Itís so easy on the Internet to consume music like a whale."
The return of vinyl is not just a youth movement. Sixty-year-old Henrik Lang, a native Finlander who now lives in Chicago, said he switched back to vinyl six years ago for the better sound quality.
"It was an Ornette Coleman CD that brought me back," Lang said, while scouring the jazz section at the Lakeview Reckless. "Transferring something that was made in í63 didnít work out well. I thought, ĎWell, if I find something on vinyl, then Iíll buy it.í"
Lang owns about 2,000 LPs. Collectors like him are a big part of the reason vinyl is on the rise. Reckless general manager Smith said he knows people with more than 10,000 LPs.
For Keenan Kelly-also known as DJ Kesa-collecting has become a problem.
"I canít even keep some of them in my place," Kelly said of his 3,000-LP collection. "I need to slow down. Iím an addict."
Other vinyl faithful describe their devotion less as addiction and more as romance.
"Sometimes you just want to go home, put on a record and have a glass of wine," said Tim Wagner, 26, who works at Andy's Jazz Club & Restaurant in the Gold Coast. "You just donít have that feeling with an iPod."
Whether based on addiction or love, increased LP sales are helping Reckless capitalize on the recession. The company is taking advantage of low real estate prices by moving its original Lakeview location down the block to a bigger, 5,000-square-foot space at the end of May.
McCabe is confident that customers will follow Reckless to its new location.
"We have a built-in, very intense constituency," McCabe said. "Record collectors are always on the hunt. That audience stays loyal."
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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 - Boston.com - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick
• November 20, 2011 - Salon.com - In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?
• June 9, 2011 - NJ.com - 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
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• November 20, 2006 - Austin 360 - In Austin, Niche Indies Rule
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