Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Vinyl Countdown

I’ve been a collector for as long as I can remember. As a young kid I clearly recall an enthusiasm surrounding a paint variation on a Hotwheels® car. Something about having two of the same thing with a slight variant really sparked interest in me. I later began collecting baseball cards and eventually comic books. The transition between my card and comic collecting was simple. Baseball cards had nothing to them. They were cheap two-sided pieces of cardboard that told a story about the player of a sports game. As I grew out of sports (and ultimately social situations as well), I fell for comic books. Comic books were fun to collect, but they also offered this other level of collectibility; you could read them too! This far surpassed the simple two-dimensional world of trading cards and I quickly accumulated more long boxes of comics than I knew what to do with.
When the early nineties hit and every kid my age at the time (12-15 years old) was collecting comics, it began to lose it’s luster. At that time the markets were cashing in on the kids and their desire to collect everything. Comics had foil covers, cover variants, holograms, etc., etc. At this point kids (as well as I) were buying one of each, regardless of the contents. As the marketing tricks got trickier and more obvious, the stories in the books got worse and the designs and techniques became lazier. This is where I left to collect action figures. Ironically enough, I bought my first Admiral Ackbar Kenner® Star Wars action figure at a comic book store. It was a mere five bucks and did not include his commander’s staff. I quickly became hooked on figures and continued on to work at completing various lines from the 1970’s-early 1990’s. From Micronauts to carded X-men figures (still dwelling on my abandoned comic past), I managed to fill three separate rooms (and closets) at my parents home in central Jersey. To this day I still have about 60-70% of everything I ever bothered to hoard.
I loved the hunt for action figures so much that I went and got a job at Toys R Us. It was 1994 now, and right around the corner was the new (and long awaited) Kenner/Hasbro Star Wars action figure line. I collected them frantically, taking bribes from parents around Christmas time to get them the highly sought after Princess Leia figure. It was early that next year that the same thing happened to the action figure market. Kenner/Hasbro was well aware of and prepared to target the insane Star Wars fanatics and their dedication to collecting. Not to mention the history involving obsessive Star Wars freaks fighting over accidental style variations (based on the plant they were painted/packaged in). With this knowledge the company went ahead and put out so many figures with so many variations that kids like me couldn’t afford to get half of them with our minimum wage paychecks. So the inevitable happened – The market collapsed and people lost interest.
I went on to collect other things that somehow remain in demand to this day, but of all the things I ever got my head wrapped around, record collecting is the final destination.
This past year I read an article that really caught my attention. The article was called “The Vinyl Record Bubble?” by Joe Steinhardt, owner of Don Giovanni Records. His article beautifully details his concern for what he calls the inevitable collapse of the collectable vinyl market. His statistics and findings are very impressive and to me, they were somewhat troubling at first. He cites figures and instances such as the comic industry’s failure to revive itself to that pinnacle some of us got to experience in the mid 90’s. He talks about how the record industry is getting greedy and this historical pattern of collapse (or bubble burst) is in full effect. After reading the article several times over, it was hard to not feel convinced that records were about to become worthless.
This is where I realized the difference between what some people and I consider “value” or “worth”.
Of all the music mediums ever available, Vinyl is the only one that always stands strong. Think about it. Reel to reel, cassettes, eight tracks, mini discs, and now CDs (to name a few dying or dead species). Vinyl (or phonograph record I should say) has been around for over 150 years now. It’s not going anywhere and here’s why. There are people who have been feverishly collecting these things for decades. The artwork size, the sound, the consistency in their easily stored sizes and weight, and the nearly infinite available library is enough to keep collectors hooked for a long, long time. Technology can’t step to records either. Audiophiles, or “Golden Ears” claim the sound is superior to all media and their heavy equipment receipts are proof positive of these beliefs.. So collectibility, superior sound quality, and a history of success and satisfied listeners has led me to believe that records will stand strong as the silent leader of music media well past our lifetimes.
The issue is with the market. The industry knows that music consumers aren’t just buying mp3s right now. They are aware that more than a handful of kids are out there buying all six versions/colors of the latest punk release. I actually agree that a collapse is inevitable as it was with all previously flooded collectable markets. I don’t believe that it will affect the real collectors and the real listeners. There may come a time when no one cares which pressing you have of that Gainesville band’s LP from 2007, and by the looks of the market, that time could come soon. But as for value, there are still only so many butcher covers by the Beatles and everyday there are tons of new Beatles fans born. It doesn’t matter what people decide to press now or later because the demand for the original will always obtain the highest return. People aren’t going to ignore the nostalgia associated with flipping a classic slab of wax over on their turntable while losing themselves in larger than life layouts. It’s the kids that care more about having more of everything (versus the kids who care about finding more in everything), who will be affected here. If you collect and spend money for the wrong reasons (to be the ultimate fan – materialistic fan), burst your own bubble. I’m planning on teaching my grandkids about the one and only perfect sound, available now and forever on 45 or LP.

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