Vinyl Records Are Sneakers Now
Record Store Day is upon us, which means a superfan frenzy over a bevy of limited-edition drops. Sound familiar?
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Taylor Swift has shilled everything from CapitalOne credit cards to Keds sneakers over the years. Her commercial appeal helped her earn $80 million in 2021, making her the highest-paid woman in music. Amid the pandemic, though, Swift’s top product is something that seems to have taken a back seat in the music business of late: music.
Swift moved 2.4 million albums in the U.S. last year, more than any other artist. Incredibly, roughly one-third of those were vinyl records. So it’s no wonder Swift serves as this year’s global ambassador for Record Store Day, which celebrates its 15th anniversary tomorrow. The landscape has shifted dramatically since 2007, when just 1 million vinyl records were sold in the U.S.; by 2021, that number had soared to 41.7 million.
“It’s been a true joy for me to watch vinyl sales grow in the past few years,” Swift declared. “And we, the artists, have the fans to thank for this pleasant surprise.”
Also deserving of gratitude for this LP renaissance: the ragtag band of music industry veterans and independent store owners that came up with the idea of Record Store Day—and turned vinyl records into sneakers. After all, as Swift and others have shown, selling sneakers and moving music often require a similar set of skills.
One of the key dynamics driving vinyl’s recovery is the element of scarcity. Records these days are produced in limited quantity partly because there’s a backlog on the production side, as the number and capacity of pressing plants hasn’t caught up to demand. And, especially in the case of Record Store Day, consciously producing LPs in small runs further stimulates demand.
And while Taylor Swift’s Keds never had the sort of limited edition drops that would send sneakerheads lining up around the block to grab a pair, the opposite holds true for A-list hip-hop acts like Kanye West. His strategy with Yeezy: launching modest runs of $200 shoes and allowing the frenzy to drive demand on the secondary market. That turned out to be the formula for a billion-dollar brand.
So, as vinyl continues its comeback, those same elements of supply and demand are at play. Last year, as usual, Record Store Day added plenty of fuel. Its first drop of limited-edition releases by artists young and old moved 1.55 million units in the U.S. alone.
“It’s no coincidence that vinyl’s exponential growth year-to-year over the past 15 years syncs up exactly with RSD’s launch,” writes Larry Jaffee in his deeply-researched and thoughtfully-written book, Record Store Day: The Most Impossible Comeback of the 21st Century, published earlier this month.
LPs regaining their status as the most popular physical music format for the first time since 1991 garnered its share of headlines a few months ago, but it’s probably been true for years: vinyl sales are probably being undercounted.
As Jaffee’s tome notes, only 250 record stores actually report data on their vinyl sales, yet there are 1,400 that participate in Record Store Day. And, similar to sneakers, a huge chunk of vinyl sales take place on secondary markets.
So don’t expect Taylor Swift to stop cranking out vinyl records anytime soon. According to Drake and The Internet, the next one may be 1989. Perhaps Swift should consider accompanying that with something similar: a limited edition drop of Keds … made out of vinyl?
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