The music business is dismissing its hottest-selling product as nothing more than a novelty platter.
A piece published Friday in Rolling Stone finds that, despite a 52 percent increase year over year in vinyl sales, many decision-makers at major labels regard the resurgent medium as a blip or fringe concern.
"It's a great marketing opportunity. While we do expect growth to continue, it'd be hard to project exactly what that's going to be," Candace Berry, general manager of Universal Music Distribution, told the magazine.
In terms of scale, vinyl revenues still essentially amount to a rounding error on major labels' balance sheets. In 2014, the top-selling album on vinyl was Jack White's "Lazaretto," which sold 86,000 copies. The top-selling album overall, Taylor Swift's "1989" (which also sold some copies on vinyl), moved more than 3.6 million copies. Taken as a whole, 8 million vinyl LPs were sold in the United States last year, according to industry figures. Compare that to the almost half a billion songs per day that Americans streamed last year using services like Spotify (according to data from Nielsen Soundscan), and it's easy to see why executives aren't tearing up their strategic forecasts for 2015.
The growth is attributable to a number of factors, though the biggest has been the emergence of a number of unlikely new retailers, which are taking the place of departed record stores. In September, the clothing and lifestyle chain Urban Outfitters claimed it was the world’s No. 1 retailer of vinyl, a claim that was later disproved.
Yet obstacles remain in front of the industry's ability to drive further growth, especially limited production capacity. There are just 15 vinyl pressing plants left in the United States, which limits labels’ ability to order up additional pressings of albums in the event that their initial runs sell out. Distribution is another major consideration. Many of the country’s largest independent vinyl distributors have long since closed their doors, with the remaining networks mainly focused on fringe or specialty releases.