Consumers are moving to the cloud…so why are people still buying vinyl records?

29/03/2011 12:50 by

Common opinion generally decrees that, in the future, the majority of consumers will be moving to the cloud to obtain broader access to music. While this is almost certainly true, in the fragmented world of consumer music consumption, a ‘collector’ mentality and desire for personal ownership continue to exist amongst many music fans. The music industry needs to ensure these different needs are addressed, rather than assuming a single model will satisfy all consumers.

Vinyl records not affected by the industry downturn?

Over the last few years a pleasing story has continued to appear like clockwork in the press. Amid general doom and gloom and tales of music industry collapse, we are told, somewhat counter-intuitively, that sales of vinyl records are continuing to increase. See the chronologically listed selection of articles below for proof.[1]

Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that vinyl is on course to overtake digital sales and/or offer salvation to the music industry. It’s clearly not.[2] But, with the majority of evidence suggesting the only future for music is in the ethereal cloud, it’s interesting that stories of continuing vinyl sales persist with such regularity.[3] So, what’s happening here?

Purchasing records satisfies a need to collect

I’m willing to accept there could be a devout group of vinyl purists in existence, who, steadfastly refusing to turn digital and viewing even CDs as heretical, are growing in number and influence. The oft-cited reasoning behind such a mind-set being that analogue vinyl recordings offer a considerably warmer, richer and more nuanced listening experience than the cold, sonically inferior, mp3.

Fine. However, qualitative observation of record purchasing behaviour around London indicates that these are not products of a by-gone age that we’re talking about in the majority of cases; instead, most record purchasers appear to be tech and media savvy individuals.

So, essentially, I think what we’re seeing here is emblematic of a wider trend, in which consumers, who are perfectly comfortable consuming digital content, are showing a desire to supplement their digital media with physical items. [4] (Underpinned, I’m sure, by a degree of knowing contrariness and retro-irony – especially in the trendier parts of East London.)

I’m confident that a sizeable proportion of those buying records aren’t primarily doing so to listen to the music at all. Instead, the retro aesthetics and expansive artwork that vinyl sleeves offer means records are increasingly utilised as ‘art’ and are as likely to appear framed on a wall as on a turntable – the numerous blogs expressing an almost fetish-like devotion to vinyl testify to this.

So, while downloading or streaming provides the clear advantages of quick, instant access to music, shopping for vinyl offers the increasingly rare opportunity to indulge in a tactile purchasing experience. Furthermore, in an on-demand world, where all media is available at the click of a button, tangible products, that require an investment of time and energy, are used to reflect a degree of dedication and to savour the creation of a physical collection.

This collecting behaviour will be in-built in many of us. As baby-faced marketing guru Martin Lindstrom relates in his fascinating book ‘Buy-ology‘, “As a society bred from hunters and gatherers, we’re all hardwired to accumulate. There’s something about the ritual-like act of collecting that makes us feel safe and secure…we often seek out comfort in familiar products or objects, because the collecting ritual makes us feel somehow more in control of our lives.” [5]

What does this suggest for the evolution of music and the cloud?

Buying vinyl is only going to remain a niche activity at best, but the implications of this behaviour are important to reflect upon further. If we take this desire for ‘owning a collection’ into the digital space, it would suggest that ‘the cloud’ does not necessarily represent the optimal end point for all consumers.

Instead, as Paul Resnikoff convincingly argues in his piece ‘The Cloud: It’s Not an Evolution’, “In reality, the cloud is better positioned as a complement to existing collections and access methods, not a replacement.” [6] (Emphasis,my own).

While having instant access to tens of millions of songs through the cloud will (understandably) be taken up by many consumers with great enthusiasm, for others, who may have spent years accumulating music, continuing to ‘own’ and curate locally stored digital collections will remain a desirable option. In a similar way to our vinyl purchasers, being able to demonstrate ‘ownership’ indicates a certain level of dedication and passion to a cause.

Of course, for the new generation coming through (for many of whom the concept of a CD is a complete anachronism), the idea of owning a ‘music collection’ may never resonate. Indeed, as I pointed out in a previous post , perhaps my current age means I am more predisposed to a ‘collecting’ mind-set than others in the future will be.

However, I’d argue that a desire to collect will continue for some time in society: Lundstrom notes that if children experience social difficulties in school, they’re far more likely to become preoccupied with collecting, enjoying the sense of mastery, completion and control it offers (my obsessive hording of music as a teenager, in light of my woeful sports ability, suddenly all makes sense.) This is unlikely to go away.

Conclusion

Put simply, with music there is still no one solution to suit everyone. As a number of reports this year have already demonstrated, music consumption remains a highly fragmented activity, comprising a complex mix of behaviours and preferences. [7] So, while over time we will inevitably see a wider shift to a cloud-based form of music access, it should be remembered there is always likely to be a sub-section of the population this won’t necessarily apply to.

Music providers, including Apple, Spotify, Amazon and the rest, need to find a way to appeal to this diversity and would be wise to build in the idea of ‘a personal collection’ within their online offerings, before moving full-heartedly into an access-anything cloud.

Footnotes:

[1] A cross-section of articles, over the last few years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011

[2] For one of many depressing charts available see: http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-music-industry-sales-2011-2

[3] See http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/industry/record-labels/cloud-based-music-streaming-will-be-dominant-1005079772.story or indeed a recent GfK Blog post for evidence

[4] Vinyl as Art: Urban Outfitters and excellent blog, OMG Vinyl

[5] Martin Lindstrom, “Buyology”, pp. 105 – 106, (2008) And thinking more broadly, he also points out the influence of Dopamine, one of those addictive brain chemicals, shown to play a part in purchasing decisions and underpinning the euphoric feeling of “retail therapy”.

[6] See Paul Resnikoff, “The Cloud: It’s not an evolution

[7] See the “Into the Future” report The report can be accessed via music week, or for a useful summary, click hereSee also, “The hyper-fragmented world of music”, a MIDEM report

Image taken from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41229064@N03/4210076918/sizes/l/in/photostream/

About the author

Richard Preedy Richard has spent the past 6 years working in GfK's Connect team specialising in tech, digital and telecoms research. His vinyl collection is currently stored in the spare room at his parent's house (much to their delight), as his girlfriend feels that it does not represent an optimum use of space in their current flat.

Short URL: Generating...

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “Consumers are moving to the cloud…so why are people still buying vinyl records?”

  1. Tim Waddington says:

    Excellent approach to the recent resurgence in vinyl sales. I think I’m probably at completely the other end of the scale as I now cease to ‘own’ any of my music, despite it coming from the Cloud through Spotify. I suppose you could say that I ‘rent’ it for £9.99 a month. I do experience an occasional paranoia and sense of lacking and I suppose owning something tangible would probably offset these feelings. I also wonder what would happen if Spotify went bust, or the internet stopped working. I would own nothing. If that happens can I come round and listen to your vinyl?

  2. Gilles says:

    I would expect that the crowd that buy vinyls includes a fair amount of people who are musicians themselves. This crowd really knows the benefits of analogue over digital, witness the revival of valve-based amps and guitar effects at the expense of transistor-based amps and digital sound processors.
    But I agree with your point on fragmentation of behaviours and my bet is that the more options are introduced, the more fragmented the behaviours will be. Isn’t it already the case with Movies/Tv?

  3. Nice job, Richard, especially on why people need to collect. Collecting is an obsessive kind of activity, but at least for me, the physicality of what I am searching for is key. No fun in collecting MP3s is there? But hunting down obscure or unusual records, their retro sleeve art becomes part of the pleasure of the experience. Listening to the music, you study the album and connect with the people who recorded it. The stranger or more authentic, the better.

    I’m worried about this girlfriend of yours, however. Richard, you have to keep your records in your flat, however small it is! The records, they are part of who you are — leaving them with your folks means you are leaving a part of you behind…etc.

    Good luck!

  4. Richard Preedy says:

    A very good point about musicians buying vinyl; I agree that the in-depth, specialist knowledge musicians have over the ‘average punter’ will inevitably increase the appeal of records.

    I guess an issue I have with completely moving to the cloud is that the element of creating ‘pride’ in a collection is lost. I used to enjoy poking through other people’s CDs when I went to a party – where’s the fun if everyone has instant access to everything? Furthermore, the thought of having any track I want available at my fingertips, it can be a little overwhelming. That’s why I think it’s absolutely key for the industry to help consumers discover, curate and to reflect the idea of building a collection within their cloud propositions.

    Amazon’s Cloud Locker- announced yesterday – sounds like it could be a step in the right direction: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-20048160-93.html

    @Tim – don’t worry, if the internet stops working, it will herald the collapse of society itself and finding some nice tunes to listen to will be the least of our worries. ;0)

    @Paul – thank-you for the advice. I’m going to start covertly bringing my records back, one 45 at a time…

  5. I a digital world, where almost any track can be found on Spotify or iTunes, there is still a lot to be said for going into a record store and asking the trendy guy behind the counter ‘what he’s got thats new in X-genre’. It’s listening to the tracks that he passes over the counter that have only had short runs on either CD or vinyl that make you feel like you are hearing music that nobody else has heard yet.

    I feel that cloud based music is great, but some times we all want to feel that we have found something that no-one else has found and that we are ahead of the commercial world.

    In my opinion there will always be a place for that cool little record store hidden around the corner.

    Great post Rich!

  6. Vinyl Lover says:

    there is a history here that goes much, much deeper than hipsters buying new releases. the way this article smugly dismisses or outright ignores many benefits of vinyl suggests to me he has little understanding of the subject.

    seems to me the author isn’t interested in vinyl, so with little to no research he assumes digital formats are a nearly perfect substitute. i need both in my life, for very different reasons, and i don’t care about collecting things or packaging.

Leave a Reply