by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & SKUing Toward Vinyl & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n April, Tim Bross reported on the shift of local independent record stores away from digital CDs [April 17, "For the Record"] and toward good ol' analog vinyl. Here's the oddest possible update: On a much more limited scale, some big boxes are shifting as well, led by that everything-under-one-roof Wal-Mart wannabe, Fred Meyer.
The story, as reported in Portland's The Oregonian and by the Associated Press, goes like this: Some hapless merchandiser, ordering product, accidentally inputs the SKU (stock-keeping unit) for an LP rather than a CD. Boxes of REM's Accelerate in 12-inch vinyl soon found their way to stores. Some managers sent them back; others put them on shelves. The ones that made shelves sold pretty well (55 in a week), which has led the company to begin test-stocking 20 different albums in 60 stores (old fave Abbey Road, for example, and the Raconteur's latest), with a selection of turntables to follow. Best Buy is reportedly also wading into the market.
This will no doubt strike vinyl-lovers as some great coup toward a simpler, realer age of music consumption. I don't think it is. To suggest that or, more garishly, to call it a full-scale "consumer revolt," as The Oregonian has, or to call it a "comeback" is to misapply both terms. And, more broadly, to misunderstand economics.
The chain didn't offer up numbers, but I'd wager the 55 copies of Accelerate on vinyl records in a week won't match the sales numbers for CD numbers. Nothing in the trend suggests these were people switching from CD to LP. More likely, some vinyl hounds went grocery shopping (everyone's gotta eat, yeah?), saw the album, copped it, and told their friends that Freddy's had quantities which the local Music Millennium didn't.
Vinyl record sales will never rival the sheer number of CDs being sold even today (after a five-year, 20 percent skid). I do think, however, there will come a time when CD sales will fall to the point that records will outsell them. Records will continue to sell doggedly for years for a very un-sexy, microeconomics 101 reason. There's demand. The same people who have always wanted vinyl still want it. It's a small number, but a loyal one, something CD makers would love right now.