To be sure, vinyl hasn’t come close to recapturing the dominant position it held for decades, before a wave of new formats swept in. Beginning in the 1980s, audiocassettes, CDs and digital downloads captured large shares of the market. Despite the growth in 2011, vinyl LPs represented just 1.2 percent of the total of 330.6 million albums sold in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Even so, major artists from Adele to JayZ issue vinyl versions of their albums, augmenting business for manufacturers who also produce vinyl re-issues of classic records by past headliners like the Beatles. Vinyl buyers include die-hard “analog nuts’’ and audiophiles as well as new listeners who find something missing in digital music, said Jay Millar, a spokesman for United Record Pressing.
Millar said he can hear a difference between vinyl and digital recordings, though he acknowledges that most people probably can’t distinguish vinyl from quality CDs. But he said vinyl’s value comes in part from the way it forces a listener to focus on the music.
“I can’t jog with a record,’’ he said. “I don’t have a turntable in my car.’’
United Record Pressing, founded in 1949, has worked busily through waves of change in the demand for vinyl sound. In the 1980s, as other formats gained market share, the Nashville company made vinyl singles for DJs and records for dance clubs, radio stations and skating rinks, Millar said. But lately he has seen a resurgence of the full-length vinyl album. United, which identifies itself as the largest U.S. vinyl record maker, ran 24-hour shifts for a big portion of 2011, he said.
While vinyl business is picking up, sales trends indicate dangers for the CD, the format that squeezed vinyl into the back corners of record stores years ago. Nielsen SoundScan says CD sales declined 5.7 percent to 223.5 million albums last year. While CDs are still the most popular format for music sales, it is declining while digital downloadsjumped 20 percent to 103.1 million albums.
As digital downloads draw customers away from CDs, they can boost sales of vinyl albums, said Matt Lunsford, a co-founder of Polyvinyl Records, which is the company that Xiu Xiu records with. About six years ago, the Champaign, Ill.-based company started including digital download codes with each vinyl album sold. “That seems to be the ultimate way of experiencing the record,” Lunsford says. “It allows people to have the best attributes of digital and vinyl.’’