By Ken Zurski
In 1948, the LP (Long Play) microgroove vinyl record was introduced by Columbia Records for the sole purpose of playing more music on a phonograph or analog sound medium. Circular in shape like its predecessors, the LP was larger in diameter at 16-inches and turned at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, much slower than previous versions.
The LP itself was designed to replace the 12-inch records being manufactured for RCA Victor player’s in the 1930’s. The smaller plates had tighter grooves and less background noise, but unpredictable sound clarity overall.
The larger LP’s were slow to catch on at first, representing only a slight percentage of sales for consumers who were accustomed to the smaller size, faster speeds (78 rpm) and shorter play time. But as home stereo systems improved, LP’s were streamlined back to 12-inches and quickly became the preferred choice of buyers.
In the 1960’s and continuing into the 70’s, music artists such as the Beatles and Pink Floyd found a niche by exploiting the availability of time per LP side. They began experimenting with varying layered pieces of music, thereby making, marketing and selling albums with longer songs and conceptual themes. In some instances, two LP’s were included.
Then in the 1980’s, thanks to MTV and the demand to buy popular music, chain record stores opened in malls across America and record sales – included the smaller 45 rpm singles – continued to rise.
But it wouldn’t last.
Introduced in the mid 80’s, the new compact disc format (CD) was cheaper and less expensive to produce. The CD’s were about the same price as a vinyl album, but a CD player was costly. Eventually demand drove down the price and by the 1990’s, the age of the LP mostly disappeared. Mainstream record stores transitioned to stocking and selling only CD’s on their shelves.
Recently however, with no physical attributes attached to digital music, there’s been a surge in demand for vinyl. Newly pressed vinyl records of repackaged older and some newer music has become popular as turntables sales have increased as well. In fact according to the Recording Industry Association of America‘s midyear report for 2019, vinyl album sales may soon overtake sales of CD’s for the first time since 1986. This trend has prompted many new artists who have only produced music for the CD and digital markets to promote vinyl packaged versions of their albums as special editions.
According to c/net: “Just because vinyl may soon outpace CDs doesn’t mean music lovers are trading in their iTunes accounts for turntables. Streaming remains the most popular way to consume music, accounting for 80% of industry revenues, and growing 26%, to $4.3 billion, for the first half of 2019.”
Bu the LP just wont die. Today, original LP’s from the early 40’s to the mid 80’s are considered nostalgic and collectible. Many privately owned record shops, or independents as they are called, continue to thrive by specializing in rare or out of print editions. And online markets, swap meets and thrift stores are filled with opportunities to sell or purchase used albums.