It’s back and it’s ‘groovy’

Vinyl sales are up by almost 2,000 per cent over 2007 and the black discs are cool with the hipsters. It opens up some interesting sales opportunities for retailers, claims Phil Hansen, operations director at Clarity

One of the best-known UK hi-fi reviewers has a unique way of scoring products in his online hi-fi magazine. Really great pieces of kit are awarded either a ‘Groovy’ or ‘Deeply Groovy’ rating, which is a lovely nod in the direction of good old-fashioned vinyl. Or perhaps that should say the latest and greatest music medium that’s taking the world by storm.

There really is nothing like a resurgence in 100-year-old technology to get the kids going, and this one has definitely grabbed their attention. Yes, you can walk through Trafalgar Square and see a good number of youngsters using old Pentax ME Super cameras, as they rebel against digital, and even the humble compact cassette is threatening to make a return (heaven help us!) – but it’s vinyl that’s really come back with a vengeance.

Rise

Music consumption is going through the roof, thanks to the various streaming services that now account for more than half of total UK music listening (figures from the BPI). And the rise in use of streaming services is simply phenomenal – 51 per cent up in 2017 compared with 2016, resulting in over 68 billion streams during the year. That’s a lot of music.

So where do the other formats figure in this virtual world that is lacking in tangibility? The rise in music consumption of around 9.5 per cent for 2017 versus 2016 is the biggest increase since 2000. It is fuelled largely by streaming, but also by the resilience of physical formats, according to the BPI.

Declining

Vinyl Hunter café in Bury St Edmunds
Vinyl Hunter café in Bury St Edmunds

The CD is still holding its own, at around 31 per cent of the music purchased, but this figure is declining – from 56 per cent in 2012. Vinyl, on the other hand, has gone from just 0.3 per cent in 2012 to three per cent in 2017 – not big numbers, granted, but in percentage terms. The increase is huge.

There were 4.1 million vinyl LPs purchased during 2017, which is a rise of nearly 27 per cent compared with 2016, but the staggering figure is the 1,892 per cent increase since 2007. It’s now at its highest level since the early Nineties, with 40,000 albums released on vinyl in 2017. Vinyl represents nearly 10 per cent of all physical music purchases.

Will this help hi-fi sales over the next year, or are most music consumers using inferior quality streamers (namely their phones) and turntables (the £90 special from the supermarket)? We probably all know the answer, but what a great opportunity this presents to educate and get people to trade up to something decent.

How do we find out what is selling in the hi-fi world at this time? For the answer, we need to refer to our colleagues at GfK. And it just so happens that at this time of year we get just such an opportunity at the Clarity Conference.

By the time you read this, the UK hi-fi industry’s only annual conference will have taken place. First on the bill this year was the BPI, who shared more details with us about the trends in music consumption. We’ve been building a relationship with the BPI over the past few years, as our worlds are intrinsically intertwined, being that there is a correlation between the sales of vinyl and the sales of turntables. And that brings us nicely on to GfK. The market data specialists have been plotting a rise in turntable sales that pretty well mirrors the software increases reported by the BPI.

Of course, high-end turntables will always be niche – most of the purchasers of vinyl wouldn’t even consider spending thousands of pounds on one – but where we have a real opportunity to get the hi-fi word out there is with those early adopters of the £90 specials, which are probably beginning to break around now.

Converted

There’s never been a better time for the hi-fi sector to preach to the vinyl converted. But how to do it? One of the best pieces of business advice I was ever given was, ‘you’ve got to fish where the fish are’. And, as many of these new vinyl purchasers are millennials, that means going online and more specifically using the social media outlets they live their lives through – Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like. These may be somewhat alien to us, but if we want to reach out to our new audience we need to embrace them.

As the trade association for the industry, Clarity’s job is to support those working in it and we would be happy to run a course to teach retailers the mechanics of reaching out to the millennials.

Drop us a line at info@clarityalliance.co.uk if you’d like to participate and we’ll make it happen if there’s enough interest.