The Vinyl Countdown: Sony returns to LP production
In 1989, when I was five years old, Sony decided it was time to stop printing vinyl records to work on an exciting new format: the compact disc. Now that I’m 33, Sony has seen the folly of its past behaviour, and gone crawling back to Vinyl: it will resume production in Japan in March 2018.
To begin with, Sony will be working on popular older songs – mainly Japanese numbers – but the company will obviously be producing vinyl versions of the latest albums as well.
As part of the plan, Sony will be enlisting older engineers who have a good knowledge of the medium. So if you’re a Japanese engineer with an experience of cutting vinyl, it might be time to revert through a few dozen revisions on your CV.
Turns out the not-so-doomed format was just playing the long game all along. Sony announced its own plans for a vinyl player revival at last year’s CES, and in December the format passed a major milestone: eclipsing digital download sales for the first time. Earlier this year a smart turntable crushed its funding target on Kickstarter, and is being made as we speak. The comeback is real.
It really is a stunning reversal of forms for a format that was near extinction in 2006. And demand isn’t being led by ageing vinyl collectors, but by a younger generation who won’t actually have been alive when Sony pulled the plug the first time around. “A lot of young people buy songs that they hear and love on streaming services,” Sony Music CEO Michinori Mizuno explained.
And of course, unlike streaming services, vinyl music is actually profitable. Streaming sites still continue to make losses, despite their huge subscriber base and increasing revenues.
3.2 million vinyl records were bought in the UK in 2016, which is still some way behind the CD, which managed 47.3 million. The difference is the direction of travel, with CDs dropping 12% as vinyl rose by 53%.
No word in the official statistics about how MiniDisc is doing, but I’m confident my 2003 format of choice is just biding its time.
Image: Hernan Pinera used under Creative Commons