The cost of vinyl

There was something posted on Instagram that caught my eye and it related to the cost of buying new vinyl LPs. The poster was basically arguing that now that vinyl is re-established as a viable music format, the cost of purchasing albums in that format should be coming down. This is not a new line of thinking as I can remember similar comments being made about the price of CDs back in the day and nothing much changing.

Jazz Journal December, 1956

I have a copy of Jazz Journal from 1956 and in the album review section not only the band members listed but also whether the release is an EP (remember those) or a twelve inch LP and how long each side of the release played. The review also lists the price that the music retailed at. The Modern Jazz Quartet released a 12in. LP (London LTZ-K 15022), which played for 18 min on each side at a cost of 37s. 6½d. This information is known but what does it mean to a modern day collector of vinyl?

The actual average earnings in April, 1955, the latest date for which figures are available, were £10 17s. 5d.

HANSARD 1803–2005 21 February 1956 Commons Sitting  NATIONAL FINANCE

With the cost of album being £1 17s. 6½d a record buyer in 1956 would be spending around 17% of their income, and that would be before rent, food, etc. had been paid for. National Service was still in place in 1956 and servicemen were paid £1 8s. a week but with all food, accommodation, uniform, and travel paid for – that MJQ album would have had to have been saved up for.

On the Waxtime label

The above wage figures are for those working in the industrial sector. In 2019, the average weekly wage for a worker in the same sector is £607 before tax, around £486 after tax. The MJQ album referred to above is available on vinyl today at £16 or 3.3% of income before other costs are taken in to account. So is the cost of vinyl today really too high and if so is that the fault of the record label or the artist?

All of us who like to own music would like to pay less for it and you can if you are prepared to download. However, MP3 as a format does not give you the tactility or artwork of the physical format of CD or vinyl. If you are going to”own” an MP3 library – when did you ever hear anyone offer to let you browse their digital library – you might as well stream and kill off the music industry altogether: see my post To stream or not to stream?

Sorry to read that …

music retail store HMV is once again in trouble but not so surprised to read that Hilco Capital, the supposed white knight, took out almost £50 million in fees during the five year period that it owned HMV (Oliver Shah and Liam Kelly, The Times, 02/01/2019). In a declining high street retail environment, no chain could survive that level of asset stripping without seriously remodelling its sales strategy: something HMV have not done right for many years.

I was also sorry to read that Portsmouth Jazz Society has closed its doors because … ‘audiences have dwindled over the past three years and trying to “drum up” new people to come along, et cetera, et cetera, has become a thankless task.’ Sadly there will be many more jazz clubs run by dedicated volunteers that will close down due to the lack of an audience.

There will also be many who were very disheartened to read that Jazz Journal, the British jazz magazine established in 1946 by Sinclair Traill, is no longer to be produced in printed format. The “magazine” will move online but there has been little information put out as to when and in what format online.

So what is to be done? What can be done? Well look around you, independent shops are starting up as specialists – something HMV did not get right, they simply could not decide what kind of store they wanted to be – vinyl sales on the up, young people coming back in to book stores looking for real books, vintage Hi-fi on trend, even the charity sector diversifying with specialist book & music shops.

The future may not be all that bright at the moment but there are glimmers of hope out there if you only take the time to look for them. Take the Amazon app off your phone and go and talk to people in shops, at clubs and societies and feed off their enthusiasm; who knows, you might just discover something real!