Why Vinyl Records and Vintage Gaming Consoles Are Popular Again

Older formats provide the tangible experience we’re missing in digital versions

16 August 2017

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you remember dancing to records being played on a turntable and cuddling up with a favorite book on a chilly night. I’ve moved ahead with the times and now stream my music and read e-books, but millennials and younger people are buying books, old-school gaming consoles, and vinyl records and turntables.

RECORD RESURGENCE

About 547,000 vinyl albums were sold in the United States during the week of this year’s Record Store Day, 22 April—the biggest non-Christmastime week for vinyl albums since Nielsen Music began electronically tracking purchases in 1991, according to Billboard.

Sony Music Entertainment announced in June that after a nearly 30-year hiatus, it would begin pressing vinyl albums again, according to CNN Money. Consulting firm Deloitte forecasts the vinyl music industry will post double-digit growth in 2017

Sales of vinyl are contributing to a resurgence of interest in turntables. Several new models were unveiled at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas. Clearaudio, Crosley, Harman, Technics, and VPI were among the companies that showed off their products.

Those who want to expand their collection of vinyl albums should soon have a new website to scour. Reverb, an online marketplace for music gear, plans to launch Reverb LP this year. The site will cater to those buying and selling records, CDs, and tapes, according to a Chicago Tribune article.

“For older collectors, there’s a serious nostalgia factor” when it comes to vinyl and other physical formats, Stephen Young, owner of Record Wonderland, outside Chicago, told the Tribune. “But we have people who are 16, 17, and 18 years old coming in, fascinated by the idea of tangible music, because they’ve all grown up with only digital files.”

PRINT IS KING, AGAIN

Hardcover and paperback books also are growing in popularity. Sales in the United Kingdom for books for adults were up by 7 percent last year, and children's books surged by 16 percent, according to the Publishers Association. The country’s e-books sales plunged by 17 percent.

A similar trend is happening in the United States. Sales of printed books in 2016 grew for the third year in a row, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 80 percent of print sales in the United States. Hardcover sales were up by more than 5 percent and trade paperbacks by 4 percent, Publisher’s Weekly reported. Sales of e-books were down nearly 16 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, Neilsen reported earlier this year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the global book market could grow to US $121 billion by 2020, up from about $115 billion in 2016.

Many bookstores are flourishing. Amazon has opened brick-and-mortar stores in the United States, including in Chicago, New York City, and Seattle. Independent bookstores are doing well, too.

CONSOLE REBIRTH

A couple of video game companies are rebooting their old console models. The newly reborn Atari announced in June that it’s making its first gaming console in more than 20 years. “We’re back in the hardware business,” CEO Fred Chesnais said in an interview with VentureBeat. The Ataribox might debut by the end of the year.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) Classic Edition will be available in a few weeks, according to Business Insider. The console resembles the original but without cartridges; instead, it is expected to come preloaded with 21 games including Donkey Kong, Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Brothers. The game pad for the new SNES edition is far larger than the console, which fits in the palm of a hand.

WHY GO RETRO?

Fueling interest in supplanted analog technologies is our need of touch, as Bob O’Donnell discusses in an essay published on Tech.pinions. O’Donnell is founder of Technalysis Research, a consulting and market research firm.

“We’re starting to see the limits even that digital technologies can bring for areas such as entertainment content and certain types of information,” he wrote. “It’s hard to really see how adding extra digital bits to audio, photo, and video can provide much in the way of real-world benefits.

“Many people have also noticed—or, more precisely, missed—the kind of physical interaction that human beings innately crave as part of their basic existence,” he continues. “The end result has been the rediscovery and/or rebirth of older analog technologies that provide some kind of tactile physical experience that a purely digital world had started to remove.”

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