Resurgence of Vinyl Should Remind Publishers of Their Core Fans
Last week this article from The Media Briefing about the "resurgence" of vinyl circulated in our offices. Resurgence is in quotes there because vinyl, though experiencing noteworthy growth after being nearly eviscerated by cassette tapes then CDs then iPods and now streaming music, remains a tiny fraction of the overall sales of music. (Note the table in that article showing units sold from early '70s to today.)
Much of the discussion was about what the revitalized popularity of vinyl might tell us about the magazine industry, and more specifically the future of consumer demand for traditional, printed magazines.
That's an interesting discussion and one I've had with myself many times. And I do think the author of the vinyl piece Chris Sutcliffe gets things right about the symbolic nature and tangible nature of vinyl.
But what I take away from the vinyl phenomenon is what it reveals about a musical artist's core audience -- and how publishers should regard theirs. The analogues (pun intended) to a magazine publisher in the music industry are the record labels and the artists (AKA, the content producers). More specifically, given the often niche subject matter of most magazines, the parallel I find appropriate are the small- to mid-sized artists. So let's look at what these vinyl vs. streaming sales numbers mean to those folks.
First, many of the dollars being pushed around in the streaming music market do not represent engaged listening or necessarily any true fans. Much of the streaming that goes on is background music for work and parties or new artist discovery. Also, if you broke out the numbers, I'm confident you would see that the large volume of plays (and dollars) on Spotify are concentrated among the bigger, blockbuster acts: Jay-Z, Adele, Eminem, Lady Gaga, etc.
Spotify means little to nothing to small to mid sized artists, accept for being discoverable and finding new market niches ("Oh, we're getting lots of plays in Atlanta -- let's go play there so we can make real money selling tickets and t-shirts.")
On the other hand, though small, vinyl purchases represent a core fan base. People don't just pluck down $15-30 on a vinyl record if they have never heard the band. They've heard the band. They've probably seen the band live or want to. These are the people that drag their friends to the band's shows, buy t-shirts, evangelize the music, write blogs, take pictures, and share on social media. If I was an artist, I'd be watching the vinyl sales and try to grow this core as much as possible by touring (events), interacting on social media and in person (engagement), and giving them killer music (content). The mainstream will follow eventually.
Not suggest that digital listening or reading is never engaged or present or a behavior of core fans, but an artist would know vinyl purchasing is done by core fans and music spenders. To generalize, Spotify streams are empty clicks while vinyl sales represent a sustainable and monetizeable core audience. So make sure you treat your fans right.
And for what it's worth, I do think there is a resurgent interest in the tactile and turned-off experience that print magazines and vinyl records engender. But I also don't expect mobile phones to be subverted any time soon.
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.