The comeback of vinyl records, covered just a half-decade ago as a wacky trend, is now a bona fide business story: vinyl accounted for $182 million in sales in the first half of 2017, according to the RIAA. And although the format represents a small percentage of unit sales, revenue from deluxe packages means that it accounts for 29 percent of revenue from physical retail. So, now that some labels are selling cassettes once again, perhaps it’s time for record clubs — remember, seven albums for a penny? — to make a comeback as well.
Universal Music Enterprises, the global catalog division of Universal Music Group, today announced that it’s starting a distinctly digital age version, which will use mobile technology and a recommendation engine to sell directly to consumers. The Sound of Vinyl will sell 20,000 titles, from Universal as well as its competitors, both major and indie. The store includes a significant content operation — a blog, as well as recommendations from musicians like Henry Rollins, Young Guru and Don Was — and it will sell limited-edition items as well as standard releases.
“As we were discussing the explosion of interest in vinyl, [UMG executive vp] Michele Anthony hit upon the idea of a record club, but with a very modern approach,” says Universal Music Enterprises (UME) president/CEO Bruce Resnikoff.
Unlike the old clubs, which offered discounted merchandise to mainstream fans, The Sound of Vinyl will focus on committed music aficionados. Right now, the leading sellers of vinyl are Amazon, Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble. But the latter two don’t usually carry the deluxe reissues that have been so profitable for catalog divisions like UME over the past few years. And although Amazon sells a wide range of products, it’s not well positioned to effectively merchandise higher-end products like the deluxe vinyl reissues that UME has half-speed mastered at Abbey Road Studios. “This gives us a different way to read that consumer,” Resnikoff says.
Although The Sound of Vinyl operates as a web site, it’s also set up to reach that consumer directly with daily text messages — run with technology from the Seattle startup MessageYes — that include an offer suited to their taste profile. (Users who sign up for the store answer a few questions about their music taste in order to get started.) When a message arrives, users can respond “Yes” to buy — with a credit card the store has on file — or else “Like,” “Dislike,” or “Own.” As they respond, the store’s recommendation engine learns more about their taste. Users can also use messages to search the store.
It’s hard to tell how big The Sound of Vinyl might get. But it should offer labels another important outlet for vinyl at a time when additional revenue from high-end packages is becoming more important to the industry. As streaming becomes more mainstream, the industry as a whole is getting $10 a month from a growing number of consumers. But only so many people will ever sign up for subscriptions, so the music business needs to generate more revenue from hardcore music fans.
The Sound of Vinyl is aimed at them, and Resnikoff is proud of how the store has performed in beta tests. “I’m not only the president of the club,” he jokes. “I’m also a member.”