Nostalgia culture unsustainable
On Saturday, record stores across Tampa will be celebrating Record Store Day, and a lot of record fanatics will be celebrating along with them.
Mojo Books and Records, a USF staple located on Fowler, will be celebrating Record Store Day with limited edition record sales, live bands and other festivities. Co-owner Melanie Cade said the line outside of Mojo for opening on Record Store Day usually reaches half way around the plaza.
This celebration is the culmination of the grand comeback of vinyl. Record stores have popped up around Tampa since the craze began.
The form of music people thought would die out once the 1990s introduced cassette tapes and CDs has been steadily rising since 2006, according to data from The Recording Industry Association of America.
Vinyl and CD sales accounted for $18.7 million worth of revenues for U.S. recorded music in 2006. Today that number is $429.7 million. This is nowhere close to the $9.1044 billion in revenue that came from those formats sales in 1978, but it’s still a positive change from the early 2000s.
One might conclude from this data that vinyl is an incredibly smart investment but before people decide that opening a record store might be their ticket to the big leagues, it’s important to note two important things: profit does not equal smart investment and vinyl is part of that fickle nostalgia culture.
The world of technology does not operate on the idea of things coming in and out of style. It’s one of the reasons the Walkman didn’t make a comeback when ‘90s fashion did.
The old technology people are nostalgic about has been replaced with something better: VCRs with DVD players, floppy disks with flash drives, film cameras with DSLRs, etc. They might remind people of the good old days but they are objectively inferior.
If one of those does make a splash in modern culture it is only for a brief period of time before it once again is shelved for the more convenient replacement.
Vinyl is clunky, hard to store, easy to ruin and expensive. It’s not just expensive for the buyer, it’s expensive for the seller as well. Cade said the profit margin on newer records isn’t great, as the records are not only pricy but risky to sell.
The thing about records, she said, is that you can’t return what you don’t sell. That means the store takes the loss for what they don’t sell, not the label. How much to order is really just a guess.
Mojo Books and Records has been in business for 10 years now. Microgroove, a record store on Florida Avenue, has been around for six. Brendon Hock, an employee of Microgroove for three years, said he has observed a slight increase in vinyl sales over the last couple of years. Cade has seen this increase too, although she said the growth isn’t as explosive now as it was.
“It’s kind of matured,” Cade said. “I would be surprised if there was another explosive growth period like that again.”
Hock said he feels the vinyl trend is a part of the larger trend for a return to the tangible in the streaming age.
What I'm not saying is that vinyl is worthless. I’m not saying to take all of your vinyl, sell it on eBay and run for the hills. I'm also not saying don't support these businesses, especially on their big day.
Neither Cade nor Hock was pessimistic about the future of vinyl and I don’t think anyone should be.
What I am saying is that nostalgia alone cannot keep a business afloat. The numbers don’t lie. Vinyl sales may be up, but they look small compared to the $875.8 million in revenue just from people downloading albums in 2016.
Businesses that focus on record sales will eventually have to change their models. When that happens, the customers that currently support them when the product is trending needs to continue to support them during their transitions or these businesses will go under.
The true test of loyalty will not be to the format of the technology but to the friendly local retailers who provided it. When nostalgia dies, they'll need support just as much, if not more, than they do now.
Fads die and the sun will eventually set on all old technologies sooner or later. When it does, I hope people will stand by these businesses, because the next technological leap forward for music consumption should not mean the close of pieces of the Tampa community.