ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
If you thought the humble vinyl record was obsolete, consider this - vinyl sales have tripled in the last six years. This holiday shopping season there are a ton of new album releases on vinyl, from Elvis Presley box sets for the nostalgic crowd, to a compilation of "Game Of Thrones" theme songs. Denise Guerra reports on something old made new again.
DENISE GUERRA, BYLINE: Steve Sheldon owns Rainbo Records. In the '90s, he wanted to keep his vinyl presses going. But everyone thought he was crazy. They told him...
STEVE SHELDON: It's a dead format. I actually said many times I think it'll be around longer than CDs.
GUERRA: Today, his Canoga Park, California, operation is massive. There are sound testing rooms, large printers for making labels, rows of workers stuffing sleeves. And then there's the actual press itself - 14 of them - giving off smoke and smelling of burnt rubber.
SHELDON: Imagine a waffle iron. Instead of batter, we're putting in melted vinyl. And we're squeezing that vinyl into the groove by the hydraulic pressure.
GUERRA: The entire plant produces 28 records a minute. But Sheldon wishes he could press more. He's increased his staff and now presses records 24 hours a day, six days a week, to keep up with demand. And it's not just Rainbo Records. Vinyl presses all across the country are feeling the strain as the old format makes a comeback with a new generation.
KEITH CAULFIELD: Vinyl right now is really the only bright spot in terms of album sales this year.
GUERRA: That's Keith Caulfield. He tracks music charts for Billboard Magazine. He says before 2008, vinyl sales were so low they didn't even publish the numbers. But in the last six years, vinyl sales have tripled to 6.5 million sold in 2014. Currently, they make up 3.5 percent of overall music sales, according to music tracker Nielsen SoundScan. Digital downloads and CDs still make up the majority, but sales for those formats are down. Again, Keith Caulfield.
CAULFIELD: It's just really hard to convince people to spend money on buying music, period. You know, it's hard to get people to even buy a subscription to, you know, services like Spotify or Beats Music. So if you can actually find a segment of the marketplace where there is growth, which is vinyl, then that is a success, and we should be cheering it. Like, we found something that works. Let's make more vinyl.
GUERRA: National retail chains like Best Buy, Urban Outfitters and even Whole Foods are taking notice. They now carry vinyl in some stores across the country. But it's the indie stores, the old mom-and-pop shops, that still make up the backbone of vinyl sellers - stores like Amoeba Records here in Hollywood.
I met Asaf Mordoch in the rock section of Amoeba. It's the genre Caulfield says make up the majority of vinyl purchases. Mordoch has been collecting records since he was 12 years. He's 37 now, and flipping through the B section records of Bowie, Bon Jovi and Blur. He says back in the day...
ASAF MORDOCH: Record stores were harder to find. And we'd usually have to go to swap meets or dig through people's garages. But because there were less stores and less buying and selling, there was also a lot less competition.
GUERRA: People buying records today range from the nostalgic to the curious. And for many shoppers, like 28-year-old Veronica Martinez, it's about making music tangible.
VERONICA MARTINEZ: The way I've consumed music has been so instant and so immediate, especially, like, with Spotify and online streaming services that I just want to kind of go back to the way I used to listen to it as a kid, which is where I would invest money in a record.
GUERRA: Martinez says that's what happens when she picks up a record, looks at the artwork and reads the lyrics. She says she's becoming immersed in what the artist is intending to do. Customers like Martinez are giving vinyl pressers like Steve Sheldon extra business. He says that if you place the vinyl order now, you would have to wait as long as five months to receive it. For NPR News, I'm Denis Guerra.
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