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Back to the future for music formats

Ross O. Storey | Jan. 5, 2009
The younger generation now appears to be swinging back towards buying vinyl records, just when everybody thought they were a dinosaur technology.

Every now and then a trend pops up that goes against what commonsense might dictate; thats what makes the world such a fascinating place and what keeps even the technology gurus guessing.

Im old enough to remember when movies on video cassette were expected to savage the profits of the worlds cinemas. Of course, cinemas today are more popular than ever, and VHS videos have all but been replaced by DVDs, an acronym that stands for digital video disks, although I have my doubts that many Generation Xers would realize this, because DVD has become so cemented into todays language. Movies stored on digital format are, of course hugely popular and very big business, but the social experience of going to the movies and viewing films on the big screen, remains a key pastime for the younger generation.

When the MP3 music format was developed, it killed audio cassettes and an obvious conclusion was that music on vinyl records, or what were known as LPs (for long playing records) would also fade away, along with teletype machines, bakelite telephones and hula hoops. My 16-year-old daughter, obsessed with her iPod Nano, still laughs at me when I proudly talk about my vinyl record collection and my old record turntable.

But, as I returned to work after the festive season holidays, one new story jumped out at me from our web portal vinyl records are making a come-back.

According to Nielsen SoundScan in the US, which began tracking LP sales in 1991, there were more vinyl records (1.88 million) purchased in 2008, than any other year in its history. Sales of music on computer disks (CDs) have slumped by nearly 200 million in the past three years. Of course, sales of MP3 music, thanks to iPods and the multitude of other portable players now available, doubled to nearly 66 million last year. It seems that 13 to 24-year-olds are rediscovering the aesthetic value of vinyl record collections and love the cover art, and vinyls acknowledged higher, and warmer sound quality. Another factor would have to be the popularity of nightclub DJs and their propensity to jiggle vinyl records to make strange sounds. Jiggle is, of course, not a younger generation term I dont know what they call it but doing something like that with my treasured vinyl collection would damage the turntable stylus and also harm my precious records.

The point is that the younger generation now appears to be swinging back towards buying vinyl records, just when everybody thought they were a dinosaur technology. This is an example of how nothing should be taken for granted when it comes to predicting technology trends. It shows their will always be a place for creative entrepreneurs who think outside the box (or CD cover). Its probably a sign of age, but this story definitely cheered me up and flashed me back to the good old days of listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, Yes and the myriad other music talents in my youth all on vinyl records encased in colourful cardboard covers and protected by plastic sleeves.

Ross O. Storey, currently the Managing Editor of Fairfax Business Media Asia, is responsible for the editorial content and production of MIS Asia, CIO Asia, Computerworld Singapore and Computerworld Malaysia magazines.


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