Consumers are moving to the cloud…so why are people still buying vinyl records?29/03/2011 12:50 by Richard Preedy
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.
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. 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. 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.  (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.” 
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.”  (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.
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.  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.
 For one of many depressing charts available see: http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-music-industry-sales-2011-2
 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
 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”.
 See Paul Resnikoff, “The Cloud: It’s not an evolution”
Image taken from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41229064@N03/4210076918/sizes/l/in/photostream/