When sales of compact discs overtook records in the late 1980s, it looked as if the era of the vinyl record was coming to an end. By the early 1990s, vinyl production had all but ceased. Plants either closed or made the transition to CD production.
But as the rise in digital formats – specifically downloads and streaming – began to take over from CDs, vinyl returned. Listeners who found something missing in the digital age once again turned to the tangible format of vinyl records. Sales have been on a steady incline ever since 2006: in 2021 vinyl LPs sold nearly 42 million units . That may seem insignificant when compared to a high of over 500 million units offered circa 1980, but it represents a significant portion associated with today’s music retail sales.
Yet in recent years – even before the particular pandemic – vinyl records have become increasingly difficult to obtain. Despite the opening of new record pressing plants (as well as existing plants ramping up capacity), supply shortages and extremely long wait times for product delivery have become commonplace; vinyl pressing orders routinely have a lead time of 9-12 months. And retail costs for both stores and consumers have skyrocketed. What are the factors causing bottlenecks, shortages and higher prices? GRAMMY. com takes a look into this timely issue.
What’s Behind The Long Lead Times In Vinyl Record Manufacturing?
In an ideal world, an artist’s new album becomes available for purchase all at once in three formats: CD, digital download plus vinyl. In the real world, however, vinyl records’ supply vs. demand and other issues make simultaneous release unlikely — if not impossible.
“We are quoting five to six months right now, ” says Gar Ragland, founder and CEO of Citizen Vinyl , a good Asheville, North Carolina manufacturer that began operations in 2020. And Citizen Vinyl’s turnaround is better than the particular prevailing industry-wide wait time. “One of the things that’s really helped us is that when we opened our doors, we had a whole blank slate of a calendar to fill, ” he explains. “So we were able to offer a much more competitive turn time than pressing plants who already experienced an existing book of business. ” He notes that other plants are quoting 9-12 months for vinyl pressing orders.
“We have a 20 week turn for clients who have locked in capacity chunks, ” says Dustin Blocker of Texas-based Hand Drawn Pressing . For new clients, he notes, “we are currently quoting April of next year in order to get any size associated with project. ” As recently as 2018, plants could deliver product within a four- to six-week window.
The vinyl production demands from major labels place a strain on the plants, and inevitably smaller, independent labels can find their orders receiving lower priority. In March, recording artist Jack White (owner of Third Man Records, a label with its own in-house pressing operation) wrote an open letter to the industry , urging the labels to do the same and build pressing plants of their own.
In one sense, the challenge is simple: The combined capacity of all domestic vinyl pushing plants simply can’t keep pace with market demand. In practical terms, the particular delay in vinyl manufacturing means that artists and labels often face the stark choice: Hold back release of CD plus digital versions until the vinyl is ready, or release the other formats now and hope that need still exists months later when the vinyl record finally becomes available.
“Unfortunately, the standard is that will the CD is going to be ready before the vinyl, ” says Mark Capon, co-owner of Asheville, North Carolina indie retailer Harvest Records . “But I do think there are plenty associated with artists and labels that really prioritize having this all at the same time. ” He suggests that smaller, independent report labels might be more reliant upon revenue from vinyl than some of their major-label counterparts.
The particular Apollo Masters fire of February 2020 would seem to have been a contributing factor to the vinyl bottleneck. The only plant in North America equipped to manufacture vinyl lacquer disks — a key step in the manufacturing process — Apollo sustained a three-alarm fire that completely destroyed its facility. But while Apollo rebuilds, most pressing plants have shifted their lacquer sourcing in order to MDC, a manufacturer inside Tokyo, Japan. “Most associated with the mastering engineers I know were already set up with both Apollo and MDC, inch says Mark Michaels of North America’s oldest and largest vinyl record manufacturer, United Record Pressing in Nashville, Tennessee.
What Are Manufacturers Doing To Ease Bottlenecks?
The simplest solution to ease the particular vinyl record shortage would seem to be an increase in production. And that’s happening. “Right now, we manufacture around 35-40, 000 records a day, inches says Michaels. “And that will number is going to go up rapidly over the next 12 to 18 months. ” He estimates that when fully upgraded, United’s capacity will increase “by a factor associated with 2. 5, maybe a lot more. ”
But expanding plant capacity — and bringing new plants online — takes time. “Record presses are really scarce right now, ” Michaels says. He believes that the particular major builders of presses are quoting at least two years from order to delivery.
According to Bryan Ekus of the business trade group Vinyl Record Manufacturers Association, by summer’s end there will be 43 record pressing plants in the U. S., plus nine in Canada and three in Mexico. Dustin Blocker notes that those numbers illustrate the industry’s commitment to servicing demand. “When we launched Hand Drawn as the broker in 2014, ” he says, “there were only 15 plants in almost all of North America. ”
“Everybody’s in growth mode right now, ” says Alex Cushing, Blocker’s business partner plus Hand Drawn co-founder. And he says that perfect now, the labels are usually focusing their production orders on new releases rather than older, or catalog, titles. “The quickest return is on the hottest information, ” he admits that. “You want to make sure that will the current artists are finding the full return on their music investment. ”
Citizen Vinyl started operations during the pandemic, and manufactures 2, 000-2, five hundred records a day. “We have a fully manual press and two automatic ones, ” says Schier Ragland. “We’re pressing records 12 hours a day, seven days a week. inch Asked if additional shifts are being considered, Ragland says that the company’s plan is to “increase volume by keeping the machines up and running as long as they can do so safely, ” but information that training experienced press operators takes time. “The bottleneck now is personnel, ” he explains. “Machines don’t get tired, but people do. ”
Inspired by the 2019 Making Vinyl conference, several market leaders decided to create the particular Vinyl Record Manufacturers Association. Dustin Blocker recalls the conversation. “Quite a few of us from the particular supply chain – not just record manufacturers — were meeting in between the conferences, and we started ruminating about all the problems at the time: capability constraints, supply chain issues, how to communicate with clients. ” The idea of the VRMA came out of those informal discussions. “We thought, ‘How about we take it a little deeper, put some action in place and help train the industry best practices, ‘” Blocker says.
After a pandemic-forced pause, the group is gearing up with regard to a membership push in this year’s Making Vinyl fabric conference in Nashville. “We had 20 members at the early adopters meeting, inches says Bryan Ekus. “Our target is to have got 50 members soon, plus then widen the scope. ” A fundamental goal of the organization is to get the word out that while Europe has many vegetation, vinyl pressing is being done right here in North Americas well, and it’s growing.
How Is The Vinyl Shortage Affecting Record Stores?
Harvest Records’ Capon says that at least half of his store’s inventory is brand new vinyl, with about 30 percent used records and a mere 20 percent compact discs. Generally, stocking records isn’t a problem. “Since the resurgence began, there are more records than ever being pressed, ” he observes. It’s only when trying in order to stock specific titles that will a problem arises.
“There don’t seem to become any issues getting the particular new Harry Styles or even Adele in whatever quantity you want, ” states Jim Henderson of California retailer Amoeba Music . “The problem affects particular titles, ” agrees Capon, adding that catalog albums are particularly affected by shortages. “Say, Nirvana’s Nevermind or The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream is gone right now, yet in their place is something that was unavailable before. ‘”
But even when the certain title is ostensibly available, getting enough copies to meet consumer demand is not a given. Shipments to stores often include less than what was ordered. “We’ll order 10 and get three, inch Capon says. When that happens enough times, a store buyer might decide to order more than he or she needs, just in order to get the desired number associated with records. “Sometimes that works out. But sometimes, ‘Oh, all of us got the full 25. Now what are we going to do? ‘” he continues.
Larger retailers face the same obstacles, albeit on a larger scale. Amoeba frequently schedules pre-orders for upcoming, high-demand titles. “We’ll have a commitment to find a certain amount of titles within to be able to feed that will and still have plenty for the store, inches says Amoeba’s Henderson. “Then there’s the reality: whenever we open up the box, we got a percentage of what we were expecting to get. It can challenging when you believe you’re getting 90 of something and get 14 [instead]. Pressing plant life simply can’t produce enough records quickly enough – and in sufficient numbers – to meet demand.
Major music retailers like Amoeba Music offer a more diversified range of products including CDs and other merchandise, therefore they’re less affected by vinyl fabric shortages. New vinyl represents about 20 percent associated with the California chain’s inventory, which offers a substantial selection of used information and CDs. But the store isn’t completely immune through the negative effects of having to tell a customer they don’t have the given title.
“It affects us the way it would affect any retailer trying to get what people want into their hands, ” Henderson describes. “One of the challenges we face is finding a way to articulate that it’s not for a lack of effort. ” He says that if a customer comes up empty-handed when looking for the specific vinyl record, they might infer that “maybe we’re not trying to get that will title, or that it’s bad buying. ” To counter that misapprehension, Henderson says that Amoeba makes a point of using social media to announce when titles come back into stock.
Why Are Vinyl Information So Expensive?
Some of the perceived high cost of vinyl records can be explained simply by a combination of inflationary pressures plus the passage of period. During vinyl’s heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, customary list price for a single-disc LP ranged from $5. 98 to $8. 98. Adjusting only regarding inflation, that $8. 98 record that sold within 1982 can be expected to sell for $26. 63 today.
But inflation doesn’t explain away the cost differential. “A standard new record for any major artist can cost $45, inch says Kevin Smokler, co-director of the new documentary film Vinyl Nation . “It probably shouldn’t price $45; we’re basically paying people the same way we did in 1975. ” He believes the disparity between consumer wages and prices “creates an unequal system [in which] people without access to resources are second class citizens. And we all don’t like that at all. ”
A few consumers agree with that sentiment. “There is a backlash happening, ” observes Harvest Records co-owner Mark Capon. “People don’t would like to pay $40 intended for a new Harry Styles record. They’ll say, ‘I’m just going to stream it. ‘” He believes that when the prices soar to excessive levels, neither the consumer, retailer or even record company wins. “New vinyl prices have gotten prohibitively expensive; if you’re the working person with limited expendable income, you’re getting priced out. ”
Alex Cushing asks a rhetorical yet relevant question. “What’s the ceiling for a record for the consumer? ” He notes that will when he sees the black vinyl record with a $35 price tag, he grimaces. “But we grew up in a world of $9. 99, inches he says. Younger record buyers may have entered the marketplace when plastic sold for $22. “For them, $30 isn’t a major increase. inch
Cushing emphasizes that quality can make or ruin the experience associated with buying a record. “$30, and you open the report and it is not great — and it’s really eight months later on than you wanted this — then I’m not really sure [you’re] buying a second report. ”
Vinyl records are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a petroleum-based plastic. And as Gar Ragland of Citizen Vinyl observes, petroleum-based products have been increasing in price. Since their plant opened in 2020, Ragland says that this price of PVC “has increased three times. We possess had to pass that coast along, adjusting our price to our customers accordingly. And I imagine every other pressing plant has done the same. ” He notes that because associated with high demand, there offers been relatively little resistance from record companies. “It’s just the cost of doing business, ” he states.
In addition to the increasing cost of raw materials, “the real fluctuating cost is shipping and transportation, ” states Cushing. Acknowledging the current high price of petroleum (and derivative products like PVC), he emphasizes that will “it’s really nothing in relation to freight expenses. ” Choosing his words carefully, he says, “that industry has seemed in order to allow itself the majority of leeway in supply-and-demand pricing. ”
Still, the issue is a complex one. While many manufacturing processes are partially or completely automated, the pressing of vinyl records remains a labor-intensive process along with many manual steps. “The way we make information now is basically how we’ve been making records forever, ” says Plastic Nation co-director Christopher Boone. “It hasn’t really changed. It’s focused upon human beings at many different stages: cutting the particular lacquers, doing all the plating, actually pressing the particular records. And that costs money. Then, if you want really cool packaging, that too costs money. ”
What Does The Future Of Vinyl Look Like?
After a decade-plus without vinyl records, the resurgence that began in the early 21st century shows no sign of subsiding. “As we’ve spoken with our customers, there seems to be a lot associated with confidence that the reasons people are buying vinyl are real and sustainable, ” says United Report Pressing’s Mark Michaels.
This individual notes that vinyl records are now seen as the complement to streaming and digital consumption, and the retail channels support that. “You’re seeing a lot of titles sold in Target and Walmart, ” Michaels observes. “And they’re having success. When those retailers get behind a title or category, the orders are enormous. ”
He acknowledges that the responsibility for filling those orders falls upon manufacturers like United. “If we’re going to end up being a legitimate supply chain partner to the major labels, we better be capable to turn large purchases fast with service levels that are in line with what they need.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, ” Michaels says. “But I’m the believer. ”
Alex Cushing acknowledges the challenges but expresses cautious optimism coupled with a sense of urgency. “We have a short windows to fix the problems, ” he says. “And unfortunately, not all these problems are under our control, so I think there are some choppy waters out there. But I think the conditions look favorable. ”
Bryan Ekus makes note of market forces: “As long as [consumers] are willing to pay $30 to get a black record, demand should continue. ” Amoeba’s Henderson makes a similar observation from the retail perspective. “We are concerned that at a certain point, the cost tag is going to be detrimental towards the collectors, ” he says. “But the product is such a good product, plus people are engaging with it in different ways, so I’d like to think that the few years from today, we’ll see steadier fills and consistent access.
Mark Capon of Harvest Records emphasizes that vinyl records aren’t a fad. “I think they’ll be here for a long time, ” he says. “And I’m happy about that. ”