Eliot Van Buskirk of Wired points out that RIAA numbers show that records are on the rise again, after two years of declining sales. No, I’m not just using the old-fashioned term "records" to refer to something else — I mean records, as in vinyl, as in big round things with grooves that you put on phonographs. $22.9 million worth of retail value moved in records in the US alone — not a huge industry, necessarily, but nothing to be sneezed at, either. By the way, even though the CD industry is shrinking fast, $7.5 billion of CD albums were sold in 2007. So the record industry has every right to be scared by rapidly-depleting sales — and every opportunity to be intrigued by the money that might be made on digital (which, totaling all different formats, was well over $2 billion).

In fact, here’s one for you: online digital growth outpaces CD shrinkage by a factor of greater than 2:1. It’s tough to project rates forward, but that should be a good sign.

RIAA Admits Vinyl Sales Are Climbing [ Listening Post ]

I think the vinyl anomaly, though, is brilliant for a whole number of reasons. What you read in the press about the music biz is pretty one-dimensional. We’re expected to believe the industry is collapsing, and sales are down. The reality is much more complicated. Here are some other factoids you can extract from the RIAA’s 2007 sales figures in the news of the weird category:

  • High-def audio formats have completely failed — so much that cassette sales are equivalent to units of SACDs and DVD Audio combined.
  • More money was spent on mobile downloads than single downloads elsewhere — thanks to the fact that they’re so ridiculously expensive, of course.
  • People spent nearly as much on vinyl records in 2007 as they did on music videos online ($28.2 million).

So, here’s to the cassette and the vinyl record. And what does all this really demonstrate? To me, it’s a blunt reminder that what the record industry has failed to do is successfully transition to new media and new, more diverse audiences. When cassette sales started to deteriorate with the introduction of the CD, no one said the industry was doomed then. Vinyl was a great format, which is why it’s still alive. The online formula is starting to come together, but it’s just not quite there yet. And given that most of the industry’s money still comes from CDs, it seems like it’s likewise time to figure out how to get more mileage out of that format and slow the decline, rather than obsess over it, while continuing to work on new formats.

Photo: Michelle’s House of Disco.