The biggest surprise about the rise in vinyl record sales is the age of the buyers. A poll by the BPI, the UK music industry body, found that more than a third of the record enthusiasts were under 35 years old.
How do they even know what vinyl is? Surely their parents had converted to cassette tapes, if not CDs, by the time they came along?
Yet here they are, enthusing about the richness of a record’s sound, the delight of hearing a needle drop on to an LP and the beauty of cover art.
The BPI is forecasting that 700,000 vinyl records will be sold in the UK by the end of the year, the highest level since 2001 and double last year’s figure.
The same is happening around the world. More vinyl records were sold in 2012 than in any year since 1997, according to the IFPI, the international music trade body.
Any music you want is available at the tap on a screen. Pay a small monthly subscription to Spotify and you can listen to songs you haven’t heard for years, as well as whatever is new. And yet here are people buying old-fashioned records.
The lesson is that we should never write off any technology, even when it seems to have been buried by whatever came next. Cinema should have killed off theatre, video and DVD should have destroyed cinema, and downloads and streaming should have seen off the lot.
Yet almost 14m people attended London’s theatres in 2012, in spite of the attraction of the Olympics, says the Society of London Theatre. In 1986, the figure was a little over 10m.
More than two-thirds of Americans and Canadians went to the cinema last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, and, again, young people who have grown up with online movies and huge wall-mounted home television screens were particularly enthusiastic. The peak US age for going to the cinema is 25 to 39. The next biggest cohort of film-goers is made up of 18 to 24-year-olds.
What does it take for an older technology to survive, and thrive, in spite of the arrival of a new one? A sense of occasion seems to be a key.
Just as vinyl lovers enjoy the business of slipping a record out of its cover and placing it on the turntable, so there is the sense of anticipation as the theatre curtain goes up and you get your first glimpse of the set, waiting for the actors who are about to populate it.
The knowledge that those actors have to get it right every time, the communication they build with the audience as the play progresses and their palpable gratitude and relief as they take their bows are not rewards an audience can get from a film.
The cinema’s virtues are less tangible, but there is the same set of familiar accompaniments – the advertisements and the trailers, the large screen and, increasingly, 3D.
There are activities and technologies I imagine we will never want back. Does anyone have any nostalgia for music cassettes, with their mean little plastic boxes and their tapes with their tendency to stretch and break? Or for video films, whose only merit was that they kept their place, so that you could carry on watching where you last left off? It is hard to imagine, but who knows? If vinyl can return perhaps people will one day renew whatever love they had for tapes that take ages to rewind.
What other apparently doomed technologies will make a comeback when a young generation discovers their virtues? My tip: newspapers.
I would say that, you may think. But while the Financial Times remains committed to print, its declared future is “digital first” and we seem to be making a go of it. My future doesn’t depend on print newspapers surviving.
But newspapers have distinct advantages. I have written before of how I won a student audience around by laying out the virtues of print: it doesn’t need recharging, it is always “on”, it cannot be hacked.
Newspapers have advantages of their own. They are lightweight, disposable and resistant to the vagaries of life.
Recently, on the London Underground, the woman standing next to me apologised profusely. I looked down to see her coffee streaked across my FT. I wiped if off and carried on reading. There was none of the panic that accompanies contact between liquid and anything electronic.
There is something delicious about spreading a paper over a breakfast table and a serendipitous alighting on articles you might not have come across online. Young vinyl lovers, give papers a whirl.
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