The Wall Street Journal Accused of Fabricating Info to Support Its Anti-Vinyl Articles

The Wall Street Journal’s Neil Shah allegedly twisted facts to fuel an anti-vinyl narrativevinyl records.

Despite growing consumer interest in vinyl, not everyone likes the format.  Take Wall Street Journal’s Neil Shah, for example.  He’s written two mostly negative pieces on the surge of vinyl.  However, according to Analog Planet, the notably cynical writer may have made up facts to support his position against the format.

In ‘The Biggest Music Comeback of 2014: Vinyl Records,’ Neil Shah wrote that the vinyl business ‘was on its last legs.’  He wrote,

The record-making business is stirring to life—but it’s still on its last legs.

Strong assertion.  Except the details seem suspect.  Enter Analog Planet’s Michael Fremer, who investigated Shah’s claims.  As Fremer points out, the facts contradict his statements.

Analyzing the article, Fremer discovered that Shah created a “phony narrative.” How did he manage to do that? By “selectively and cynically” using facts about vinyl records.Citing one example, the Wall Street Journal correspondent labeled Thai Plastic Chemicals as “a three-person shop in Long Beach, California.”  A quick Google search reveals that Thai Plastic Chemicals is a worldwide conglomerate based out of Thailand.

Unfazed by something called facts, Neil Shah doubled-down on his anti-vinyl narrative.  At one point, the WSJ correspondent said that despite music producers adding presses,

“there has yet to be a big move by entrepreneurs to inject capital and confidence into this largely artisanal industry.  Investors aren’t interested in sinking serious cash into an industry that represents 2% of total music sales.”

Several months prior to the article’s publication, the largest vinyl plant in the United States announced their expansion.  Nashville-based United Record Pressing said that they hoped to increase production by 30% in 2014.  In a statement to The Tennessean, Jay Millar, the company’s Director of Marketing, admitted that they couldn’t keep up with demand.  United Record Pressing already had six presses running 24 hours a day, six days a week.  This past June, Sony re-opened a vinyl pressing plant in Tokyo after thirty-years.  The push signals that major labels will once again revive vinyl sales.

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But there’s more: just last week, Digital Music News pointed to a major investment in Innovative Technology Electronics Corp., maker of a revitalized Victrola turntable.  Kickstarter and crowdfunding initiatives have also pumped hundreds of thousands into newfangled vinyl ideas.

Continuing on his anti-vinyl tirade, Neil Shah recently published a new article on the Wall Street Journal.  Titled, ‘Why Vinyl’s Boom Is Over,’ the sub-header reads,

“As purists complain about low quality and high prices, vinyl sales taper off; Gillian Welch and David Rawlings cut their own records.”

Without giving any facts to back up his claims, The Wall Street Journal correspondent wrote,

Old LPs were cut from analog tapes—that’s why they sound so high quality.  But the majority of today’s new and re-issued vinyl albums—around 80% or more, several experts estimate—start from digital files, even lower-quality CDs.  These digital files are often loud and harsh-sounding, optimized for ear-buds, not living rooms.  So the new vinyl LP is sometimes inferior to what a consumer hears on a CD.

Michael Fremer called out Shah’s complete fabrication that 80% of new LPs are cut from CDs.

While probably a high percentage of new recordings released on vinyl are digitally sourced, the vast majority are cut using high resolution audio, usually 96/24 files, not CDs.

To feed his anti-vinyl narrative, the Wall Street Journal correspondent also incorrectly quoted Fremer.  Fremer says he never made this statement to the Journal:

“They’re re-issuing [old albums] and not using the original tapes” to save time and money, says Michael Fremer, editor of AnalogPlanet.com and one of America’s leading audio authorities.  “[They] have the tapes.  They could take them out and have it done right—by a good engineer. They don’t.”

Not content to incorrectly quote a fellow writer, Shah also spun Nielsen data to further his argument.

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As more consumers discover this disconnect, vinyl sales are starting to slow. In the first half of 2015, sales of vinyl records jumped 38% compared to the same period the prior year, to 5.6 million units, Nielsen Music data show. A year later, growth slowed to 12%. This year, sales rose a modest 2%.

As Fremer points out, Neil Shah chose to omit key information. This includes that fact that American plans pressed well over twenty million records last year.  He also chose to use Nielsen/Soundscan’s post-Christmas rush sales chart, from January to June. Most retail sales occur during the Christmas rush, not after. Fremer explains,

What’s more, Shah’s assertion as to why sales were up only 2% in the first half of 2017 compared to the previous year are based on his fantasies not on facts.  He does not prove causality but blames it on prices and poor quality.

So, how accurate is Nielsen/Soundscan?  Can journalists and other writers depend on their reports?  Probably not.

Last week, contradicting Nielsen/Soundscan’s reports, Sony Music revealed that revenue from physical formats, namely CDs and vinyl, jumped to $304 million for Q1 2017.  It also reported increasing sales in prior financial quarters.

Neil Shah has yet to respond to the allegations that he fabricated quotes or used incorrect ‘facts’.   However, Fremer said that he will continue writing against Neil Shah’s false claims against vinyl.

Shah has published two absurd vinyl articles, one more dishonest and/or clueless than the other. He’s over. And if he’s not, I’ll still write that it is. And why not? He wrote that Vinyl’s boom is “over” and I promise you it is not.

 

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Image by Infrogmation of New Orleans; front door image by Ogilvy PR (both CC by 2.0)

20 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Ad-blockers

    “the vast majority are cut using high resolution audio, usually 96/24 files, not CDs”

    Unfortunately, vinyl is not even remotely capable of reproducing CD quality — let alone 96/24 files.

    And that’s why people stop buying them.

    Vinyl is charming, it’s nice to touch things, and covers — don’t get me started. But it sounds like sh!t compared to modern digital files.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Mike

      Your ignorance is showing. You can quote stats on how digital is technically superior but that has squat to do with whether something sounds better to the human ear. Much has to do with the quality of the recording and mastering, but if it is done well the vinyl medium often “sounds better” than its digital counterpart to the listener.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Ad-blockers

        “You can quote stats on how digital is technically superior”

        Yes, I actually can.

        But more than anything, I trust my ears.

        Reply
        • Avatar
          Beng

          “I trust my ears.”
          I’m taking a wild guess, you actually never listened to a record.
          It’s not about digital VS analog capabilities. It’s about the mastering. At this point I digitized hundreds of older and newer records. Very few of the newer ones sound nearly exactly like their digital release. Most productions are re-adjusted by at least another pair of ears: the cutting engineer.
          With older albums it’s not even a contest. So far not a single remaster I checked didn’t sound horribly compressed, weirdly EQ’d and M/S adjusted.
          It’s in no way justifyable that, from my experience, the vast majority of digital releases pail against the soundwave etched into a plastic disc. But it appears to be the reality

          Reply
    • Avatar
      Eric Astor

      I run a pressing plant that presses vinyl and CDs. I concur with Mr. Fremer.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      AAA

      By definition, a continuous analog signal contains more information than a sampled signal. But hey, you don’t need math to figure this out, just ears.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        HarryN

        I doesn’t – by any definition – but you need math to figure this out.

        Reply
    • Avatar
      John Elson

      Then you have a shitty analog front-end.

      Over the past 25 years my SOTA Cosmos table/SME 5 arm/various MC cartridges have eaten the lunch of every digital system, which has included Mark Levinson’s original $8500 transport, various high-end DACs, MSB platinum CD transport going into MSB’s platinum balanced DAC, up to the current Sony SCD-XA5400ES CD/SACD, w/ $2700 in ModWright modifications.

      The modified Sony XA5400ES is extraordinary, but the Cosmos is simply more musical.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Dick Bag

    Stupid people. Everyone should be more than satisfied with mp3’s. Nobody can tell the difference! It’s science.

    It makes me angry when people don’t
    listen to music on the same format that I do!

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Nicky Knight

    I still believe Vinyl is a niche market but a problematic and cumbersome format for record labels because:

    1. Expensive to manufacture
    2. Requires artwork and printing of labels and cover artwork
    3. Requires warehousing / storage space to hold your vinyl records prior shipping
    and for accepting returns.
    4. Takes ages to get manufacturing done
    5. Requires a distributor who has a network of retail stores with accounts who will
    accept stock and place it on the shelves and hopefully won’t re-ship all the product back to the distributor for full credit after massive over stocking.

    The list can go on and on… vinyl is a headache and a costly one..

    For micro labels who sell via Internet & Mail-Order then I would suggest
    selling audio music cassettes.. The Return of The Audio Cassette..

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Michael Fremer

      Badly reasoned and not relevant. Labels make more money from vinyl. They are happy to produce and sell. Artwork is an attraction

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    HarryN

    That people – some people – may prefer the botched mess that vinyl produces only goes to show that its is possible to prefer degraded sound.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      AAA

      No, it only goes to prove that you either have not had the opportunity to listen to it properly or are tone deaf.

      Reply

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