There were two news items this week that really resonated with me. At first glance the similarities weren’t obvious but as I kept going over the findings in each story the connection became clearer.
First off, streaming audio continues to grow in 2014 with almost 80 billion streams reported. Not a surprise. Neither is the fact that CDs continue their apparent inexorable slide into oblivion, registering a 14% plunge when compared to equally dismal sales figures from 2013.
But here’s the eyeopening point. According to Rolling Stone magazine and other news sources, interest in vinyl continues to be a noteworthy music industry trend.
The 12-inch record had its best sales year in decades, moving 9.2 million units; a 52 percent increase over 2013.
Vinyl sales now account for six percent of all physical music sales.
The other fascinating business bulletin was out of Japan. Market researcher MM Research Institute noted that flip-phone shipments rose 5.7 percent to almost 11 million in 2014 while smartphone shipments fell 5.3 percent to just shy of 28 million, down for a second year in a row.
The argument can be made that both flip-phones in Japan and vinyl records in the United States are experiencing a phenomenon known as the Galápagos Syndrome.
This term refers to an isolated development branch of a globally available product and alludes to the phenomena Charles Darwin encountered in the Galápagos Islands which helped in the development of his Evolutionary Theory.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Japanese cell phone technology was years ahead of what electronics companies were producing in other countries. Smartphones like the iPhone have taken a huge chunk out of the Japanese market but the flip-phone is still extremely popular.
Vinyl, while technologically inferior to the CD, offers a more tactile and satisfying experience for the listener. The combination of the warmer analog sound, larger album art, and traditional liner notes and sleeves makes vinyl a much more attractive option for the music lover.
After being derided by their manufacturers and generally ignored by consumers, the 12-inch record and flip-phones continued their evolution with incremental improvements.
Record companies use heavier virgin vinyl at pressing and better quality paper for sleeves and gatefolds. Enhanced recording techniques make audio quality vastly superior to what was being produced at the height of vinyl’s popularity.
Flip-phones offer similar functionality to what’s found on smartphones and have features like physical keyboards and voice-call quality that in many cases are superior to what you’d get on a rectangular slab.
Both the record companies and electronics manufacturers believe the sales spikes are fads but come on admit it, deep down we all miss flipping our Startacs open like Captain Kirk did with his Starfleet issued communicator…