They’re huge, and they’re old. Compared to the compact and mini-discs of the past few decades, 12-inch long-play vinyl albums might seem to some college students like the brontosaurus of the audio world.
Sure, we might remember toddling around in our Osh-Kosh overalls, tipping back a sippy cup and watching Mommy lay the needle down on Donna Summers’ “She Works Hard For Her Money.”
But that was in the dark ages. We buy CDs now.
Maybe though, we shouldn’t be so sure of ourselves.
Franco Silva, host of “OyÃ© Latino” on WMNF 88.5 in Tampa, said vinyl still has its appeal.
“There’s nothing like the smell of a good record when you bring it home and open it,” said Silva.
And, as a radio programmer, Silva said it’s not just about the sensual qualities a record can offer.
“For a programmer, availability is the most important thing,” he said. “And some of the music is simply unavailable on CD.”
Jayson Kaplan, operations assistant for WUSF 89.7, agreed.
“I would definitely say that we have more vinyl than CD,” he said. “I mean, we have a lot of CDs, but our vinyl collection is massive.”
And vinyl isn’t just for radio programmers. Music stores around the country still pull in profits by catering to the vinyl-collecting crowd, with offerings from rare LPs to battered 7-inch singles on sale for a quarter.
Megan C., a sales representative for Amoeba Music in San Fransisco, said people are drawn to vinyl for a variety of reasons.
“Some people come in and are amazingly knowledgeable about exactly what they want,” she said. “And then there are others who walk in and go straight to the dollar bin.”
Amoeba Music, which has been dubbed a “shoppers paradise” by Rolling Stone, is the largest record store in the nation.
Since 1990, Amoeba has bucked the strictly CD chain store trend with its collection of rare titles. Most notably, Amoeba’s Berkley store is said to sell roughly 1,000 records per day.
Megan C. said, for her, buying records is a practical matter.
“Oftentimes, I buy something on record because it’s cheaper,” she said. “But if it’s cheaper on CD, then I’ll buy it on CD.”
Silva added that, in the majority of cases, it just makes more sense to buy the album.
“Nine out of 10 times, the record is cheaper than the CD,” he said. “If I have the choice of paying $3.99 for the record or $15 for the CD, I’m buying the record.
Jay Dennis, a salesman at Other Music, a record store in Manhattan’s NoHo district, said that pricing does play a major role in record sales, but that’s not necessarily the main motivation of most buyers.
“There are some people who will ask what’s the price difference for something in vinyl or CD,” he said. “But you usually get your collectors and aficionados who are strictly into vinyl.” Dennis added that many collectors are drawn to records because it is a more personal medium.
“Most of them like to feel it,” he said. “For me, personally, it’s more of an interactive experience. I like the fact that you actually have to pay attention to it.”
Whereas CDs can be put on the stereo and forgotten about for hours, Dennis said that records demand more attention from the listener because they have to be flipped over.
Megan C. added that records have a more personal feel for her, as well.
“It has a tangible, romantic aspect to it,” she said. “The grooves are visible on the record, you can feel them, as opposed to a CD which is sort of detached and impersonal.”
Another aspect that draws collectors to records, however, has nothing to do with the record itself. For some, it’s the cover art that provides the real draw.
“Just the size difference does it for some people,” said Dennis. “The art stands out a lot more.”
Kaplan said that, while he doesn’t currently own a turntable, he still appreciates the larger art on an album cover.
“That’s always something I’ve been into,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever bought an album just for the artwork, but there is that quality.”
Regardless of what brings a collector to albums, however, they’ll undoubtedly have to search a little harder than the standard CD fans.
“There’s always trouble finding records,” said Silva. “Mostly you’re going to find them at the flea markets, garage sales and used record stores.”
And while the Tampa area certainly can’t boast the relatively high availability of records in New York and San Francisco, there are still plenty of local stores that carry vinyl.