Are we about to experience a vinyl drought?

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Given their heightened demand and slow production, projections say “yes”

Are you a vinyl-head? Is it the preferred way you choose to collect and consume music both new and old? Well, you’re not the only one. Since their resurgence roughly a decade ago, records have become the top physical format for music lovers — with a catch.

According to the New York Times, approximately 17 million vinyl records were sold in the United States this year, generating a whopping $467 million in sales — almost twice the amount of 2020. While the revenue for the vinyl industry is certainly booming, it doesn’t change the fact this heightened demand is creating a scarcity for the format.

buying vinyl
Credit: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

As of this year, digital media sales still dominate the industry with an 84% marketshare, also according to the New York Times. Looking at a recent study by MRC Data in July, the sale of records have grown by a staggering 108% in the first six months of 2021, to 19.2 million. Sales for compact discs were 18.9 million, growing by a meager 2.2%. As you can see, records are swallowing compact discs like a great white shark scarfing down a minnow, in terms of this year’s sales.

Now, we believe that, with the advancement of time comes the advancement of technology. In most cases, you’d be right. However, many vinyl pressing companies today are still relying on antiquated technology to meet consumer demand. Pressing lathes from the times of yore are being restored to produce the highly sought after format. Even modernized lathes have to face the arduous process of pressing records en masse. While it delivers in quality, it lacks in speed. And, does it ever lack in speed.

To put things in perspective, it takes roughly 5 to 15 days to fulfill an order of compact discs. It can take Vinyl records anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks!

So, herein lies the problem.

As vinyl sales continue to soar, the industry simply cannot match the rate of production with the rate of demand. Furthering the problem are the major labels grasp on the vinyl market. While indie musicians receive next to no compensation for digital streams, music moguls continue to receive the widest profit margins when it comes to selling records. But, this is a story for another time.

Back to the matter at hand. The overwhelming demand for vinyl is beginning to impact commercially successful artists, as well. Tyler, The Creator, Adele and The Beach Boys (among others) are having a difficult time getting their orders ready for their scheduled release dates. As a result, many artists are experiencing setbacks to ensure their vinyl orders will be in check for their release.

If cause and effect has anything to do with it (better known as supply and demand), it should come as no surprise to see a probable increase in price for pressings going forward.

With Christmas season just around the bend, it’ll be interesting to see how this will unfold for the precious format and their vinyl-loving counterparts.

Here’s a basic rundown of how vinyls are made. Video credit: INSIDER.