In Honor of Record Store Day: As CDs Sales Plummet, Vinyl Finds Its Fifteen Minutes

The front of Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies on West Third Street

It was announced in early January that Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies, the record store on West Third Street that was a staple of Seinfeld and a personal favorite of Bob Dylan's, would be closing after 43 years of business as a result of the neighborhood's high rental demands. With the famous Fat Beats down on Bleecker out of business for more than a year now, Bob's joins the graveyard of record stores unable to keep up with the cyber-age of the mp3.

"The realtor wants $20,000 for this place. If you can get it, great," said assistant manager Ski, a burly man with a backwards hat. "But do you want some mom and pop or a Sbarro's down here?" Plans are in the work to move to an East Village location but, as of now, the 'For Rent' sign above the Bob's awning speaks for itself. However, their closing is running oddly parallel to the music industry's turnaround, epitomized in today's Record Store Day celebration that is attracting long lines all over the City, after a recession rough patch.

In 2011, overall album sales shot up (partly because of the world's infatuation of Adele's 21), with vinyl showing a 36 percent growth in sales after a decade of decline with the advent of the iPod. CDs didn't share the same luck: the music medium saw a 5.7% drop in CD sales and Rolling Stone, on the cover of their recent February issue, inquired "Is the CD Finally Dead?" But, for Ski, this tidbit of good news is a day late and a dollar short.

Although the website-less Bleecker Bob's inventory, according to Ski, is 85 to 95 percent vinyl, its comeback has not done enough for business: "We're still doing well enough but we're just not booming," he mournfully said, "We just need to adapt like the dinosaurs - adapt or die. We're not ready to die yet, we'd like to go for another 43 years."

Let's face it: no one walks around with a Walkman so the collapse of the CD is no surprise. Mike Cobbs at A-1 Records on East Sixth Street, who exclaimed "The return of vinyl? Vinyl never left!" before he introduced himself, agrees.

"[Companies] gave people the technology too quick," he said, "CDs came out in the 80s and, by the late 90s, you could make your own at home. Then, when the digital download came out, I think even companies are saying, 'Why are we making CDs if people can just download the whole album?'" 

A turntable for listening purposes at A-1 Records on East Sixth Street

In other words, there's no incentive to leave your laptop to buy an easily scratch-able version of, say, The Shins's Ports of Morrow. Yet vinyl remains an outlier in times of unprecedented audio accessibility at your fingertips. Rachel Browne, a member of the Brooklyn duo Field Mouse, has incorporated these unusual trends into selling her music in the Information Age: skip the compact disc release all together and exclusively stick to the odd couple of digital and vinyl. "When I did buy CDs and iTunes was emerging, I ended up ripping them all onto my computer and never really saw the actual CD again," she said.

For Browne, an mp3 file lacks a certain aesthetic that only a physical LP contains: "Vinyl is different because the listening process becomes more of a ritual experience of being in a space with the pure intention of listening to an album."

No clicking 'Next," just 'Sit Down and Listen,' and Spencer Bronson, an average vinyl user of 21 years, believes this trend could be generational. "A lot of people my age will tell you that their interest in vinyl relates to a desire for some kind of physical link to the music, that feeling of actually holding sound, the whole ritual of sliding out of the sheet and onto a platter, watching it spin," he said.  Get the dusty LPs out of your parents' closet - the kids are listening.

Passerbys gawk at vinyls on sale in front of Rebel Rebel on Bleecker Street.

In a recovering market, vinyls have oddly found their nostalgic niche: their raw tangibility is not in cyberspace and big-named bands like Mumford & Sons continue to release LPs because people like Rachel and Spencer are still buying them. CDs, on the other hand, are being buried as a middleman between the past and the future of how we listen to music. 

But it might be too early to tell if this revival is permanent, as Ski warns: "They say that girls are wearing their mothers' bell-bottoms from forty years ago. Everything just goes around."

Follow John Surico @JSuricz

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