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Analog Return: Vinyl, Zines and Motivation for Creation

Analog: The Resurrection is coming to a store near you. At least it looks that way. The Times reports that vinyl is making a comeback. I happen to have a fair amount of vinyl from when I saved up to buy LPs as a kid. But now companies like Goota Groove are among about 20 places that press vinyl and that together make up “the fastest-growing segment of the beleaguered music industry.” I have to note that the “beleaguered” view may have some challengers. TechCrunch reported that per SoundScan music sales have started to inch up. Plus according the to Times:

Last year, 2.8 million vinyl records were sold in the United States, according to the Nielsen Company, which tracks music sales through its SoundScan system. This year’s numbers are about 40 percent higher, and the real figures are higher still. Most vinyl now is sold in independent record shops, at rock clubs and through homemade Web sites. “SoundScan only gets about 15 percent,” Slusarz told [the reporter], smiling. “The majority of the stuff we press, it doesn’t even have a bar code.”

Furthermore this paper The Creative Destruction of Copyright – Innovation in the Record Industry and Digital Copying found

Eight years into a severe recession and a surge in unauthorised copying, the number of new titles published each year continues to expand at roughly the same rate of growth during the recession period as it did during the preceding boom period.

This result is counter-intuitive regarding the severity and duration of the recession. It challenges a fundamental assumption in much of the economic literature on the impact of unauthorised, digital copying, which has focused on the impact of unauthorised copying on industry revenues. According to the observations presented above, this literature will not support strong conclusions concerning copyright policy. That is because the manipulated variable in copyright policy is not suppliers’ revenues but ‘innovation and creativity’ as means to secure a diverse supply of cultural products that is responsive to societal change. The empirical findings also deflate the case for public investments in greater copyright protection, for penal procedures against so-called copyright ‘pirates’, and for setting high compensatory payments in civil cases brought by rights holders against infringers.

In short, there’s much more going on in the music market than mainstream methods of measurement capture. Indeed, small run print may be making a comeback too at least in the form of zines.

All of these points remind that creativity is not always about incentives, “MOST zines are labors of love, done as side projects and hobbies. The goal isn’t to turn a profit, but rather to capture a cultural moment, which in turn, offers the creators the freedom to explore and experiment.” In addition, the problem of capturing what is going returns here. “It’s hard to track exactly how many zines are in circulation at any time. Some are handwritten sheets that are photocopied a few dozen times, stapled and distributed by hand. Others, more upscale, are printed professionally in runs of several hundred and may be sold online.”

It seems that new creativity, old mediums, and the desire for a differently crafted artifact are driving some interesting areas of business. For those researchers, note writers, innovation junkies, and cultural theorists out there, I’d say there is some research to be done about how these businesses are doing, the size of the vinyl and/or zine market, what technology may have allowed these endeavors to take off, the non-economic motivations in place here as well as the economic ones. There may be more, but those leap to mind.