Vinyl record sales increase in Iowa City, nationwide

BY LUKE VOELZ | JUNE 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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Greg Markus was bored at his friend’s cabin in Galena, Iowa. The lakeside house was dusty, cramped and almost completely devoid of electronic entertainment.

The 14-year-old’s opinion changed when he saw a weathered record player in the basement, flanked by a row of vinyl albums — also known as LPs — from the seventies. He found an album he often listened to on CD, Neil Young’s “Harvest,” and placed the needle on top. Young’s sonorous croon lit up the basement, delivered with a clarity Markus said he never heard on CD or MP3.

“I’ll never buy CDs again — stupid plastic cases, little discs,” said Markus, now 22.

The University of Iowa senior is part of a nationwide trend in increasing record sales. The Nielsen Company reported 2.8 million vinyl sales in 2010, up from 900,000 only four years prior. Vinyl sales in 2011 are already up 37 percent over the same period last year.

Digital downloads still reign overall. U.S. sales in 2009 saw over 1 billion tracks, and those 2.8 million records are only a fraction of physical sales overall. In Iowa City, Record Collector owner Kirk Walther said vinyl sales at his store have risen about 20 percent over the last several years.

Yet records’ slight but steady steady growth marks a strange trend in a musical culture seemingly obsessed with the convenience of MP3s and digital distribution. Some vinyl fans say the LP’s physical format is actually the key to its success.

“There’s something satisfying about sifting through a big row of albums and pulling one out,” said Markus, who bought his first records two years after his epiphany in the cabin.

Record Collector employee Alissa Witzke said she also enjoyed the tactile part of playing a record.

“I got into records because I love having to flip them over, being able to touch what I have playing,” she said. “CDs don’t really have that effect — you put one in and forget about it for 90 minutes. Vinyl is more tangible.”

Iowa City resident Pete Barker said he began buying vinyl in 2010 due to the format’s improved sound quality.

“It sounds more organic,” he said.

But the improved sound quality comes at the cost of convenience: Vinyl lovers can’t pick up a record player and jog like they could with an iPod.

Adam Luksetich, who plays bass in Iowa City punk band “The Tanks,” said some bands have picked up on the need for portability and include free digital downloads with the vinyl albums they release.
Many bands, such as his own, have stopped releasing CDs entirely.

“Most of our fans weren’t buying CDs,” he said. “Most people who want to buy CDs will just download them anyway. We want people who buy the LP to have a digital download as a reward.”

Modern record players have caught on to digital convenience, often built with programs that burn vinyl sound data into MP3 files. This new wave of turntables can be found for as little as $100 at retail stores.

Luksetich said he uses his MP3 player for convenience when he jogs or bikes, but always resorts to record players while relaxing in his room.

“I’ve listened to some albums on vinyl for the first time after just hearing them on MP3, and it’s like a whole new album,” he said. “It sounds the best. CDs are just kind of garbage, you know?”

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