Is the Price of Vinyl Going Too High?

Is the vinyl industry at risk of pricing itself out of existence?

In its Year in Report 2017, researchers at BuzzAngle Music noted that streaming music consumption surged in the US and Canada.  Physical and digital album and track sales, however, continued their slow descent into obscurity.

The anomaly?  At a 20.1% increase over 2016’s numbers, vinyl records sales actually increased.  The medium now comprises 10.4% of all physical album sales in the US.

Nielsen Music also reported a similar spike.  Last year, vinyl records accounted for 14% of all physical album purchases, a record high.  Bandcamp also reported a 54% increase in vinyl sales for artists on its online music distribution platform.

As vinyl records sales increase, it’s only natural that some retailers will take advantage of the medium’s apparent resurgence.  But, according to a new report, have vinyl prices gone too high?

You probably pay a lot more than you should for your favorite records.

The Toronto Star’s Ben Raynor tackled this problem.  Unlike the US, vinyl sales have actually decreased in Canada.  BuzzAngle noted that due to HMV’s store closure, vinyl record sales declined 9.3%.

Raynor paid $64.98 Canadian dollars for a new Queens of the Stone Age album.  This was before taxes.  This comes out to around $52 in American dollars for a single vinyl record.  He noted that despite the increase in manufacturing capacity, vinyl prices continue to rise.

Touching on the format’s rising price tags, local record store owner Greg Davis told Raynor,

It does keep creeping up.  Certainly, five or 10 years ago, between $15 and $25 was the range.  Now, it’s $25 to $40 and a lot of things are in the mid-$30 range.  People are, I think, being pickier in what vinyl they buy now because of that.”

Davis owns Soundscapes on College St. in Toronto.  Davis added that customers tend to avoid costlier vinyl records.

If they see something that’s $40 and they see something else that’s maybe $25 or $30 they might forgo the more expensive vinyl, or if they don’t find something that’s cheaper they might forgo the vinyl and just listen to it digitally.  So it does have the potential to affect vinyl sales if it gets too out of hand.”

Do you love vinyl?  Time to shell out your hard-earned cash.

Looking through prices of vinyl records on Amazon, you’ll find similar price increases.  For example, A Perfect Circle’s upcoming album, Eat The Elephant, on CD will cost $11.99.  You could purchase it as a digital download for $12.49.  However, if you want to score the album on vinyl, you’ll have to shell out $27.06.

While not as expensive as Eat The Elephant, Justin Timberlake fans will have to pay more for Man of the Woods.  The album on MP3 costs $12.99.  On CD, you’ll score it for just $10.  Vinyl lovers, however, will have to pay nearly double.  The vinyl record costs $18.97.

The same increases apply for LPs from Van Halen, Kendrick Lamar, and David Bowie, among many others.

The notable price increases may be coming from the lack of pressing capabilities to meet demand.  And is this just what people are willing to pay?  Speaking with The Toronto Star, Isotope Records’ Gerry McGhee doesn’t see the end of the format’s resurgence anytime soon.

I think we’re still on the crest of the wave, actually, going upwards.

To meet demand, he opened up a pressing plant, Precision Vinyl, in early 2017.  After six months of opening, it had to add a second eight-hour daily shift, something he called “insane.”  The plant currently presses 240,000 units a month.

To further maximize the potential of its 10 pressing molds, Precision often runs a Saturday shift.  At the end of February, the company will add machines to bring the plan’s total pressing capacity to 500,000 units.

Testing how much vinyl lovers will actually pay.

According to McGhee, labels charge more for records to test consumers’ buying habits.  His clients try to find a price point to make a profit from sales without driving away customers.

Buyer fatigue has always been the main concern for us, at our end.  And the labels have brought it up to me, as well…I think that’s still the moving target.  They’re trying to figure out where that is.

Echoing McGhee’s statement, Doug Putnam, Sunrise Records, claims that he hasn’t seen any price decreases in sales.

I think the reality is we are 100 per cent going to see a pushback at some point, and is that point $39.99 or $34.99?  I’m not sure where it’s gonna come, but I kind of think the sweet spot is around $29.99.

But do you really know why you have to pay more for vinyl records?

Putnam added that consumers may not realize why records cost much more.

They’re kind of saying what I’m saying: ‘I don’t know why it’s 50 bucks for this, but it is.’  It’s almost like ‘The reason it’s 50 bucks is that’s what we’re getting charged.’  That’s how it goes.

Not everyone agrees with the format’s pricing.  Lambasting the skyrocketing price tags on new records, Record Collectors News wrote back in 2013,

Reckless cash grabs from a wounded industry are par for the course…  Major labels notoriously blew it in the ’90s by killing the single as a format and outrageously overpricing CDs…  Now that they’ve been given a chance to redeem themselves with the resurgence of interest in vinyl, not only are they shooting themselves in the foot, but it’s the same foot, the same gun and they’re even reusing the bullet.

Welcome to the new norm.

Despite executives’ complaints, don’t expect prices to come down anytime soon.  Nielsen Music noted that in Canada, catalog titles like Bob Marley’s Legend accounted for 59% of vinyl sales.  Indie label owner Trevor LaRocque blasted the popularity of these sales.

Not to pick on the old-schoolers, but Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors?  That’s between $32 and $34.99.  We’re talking about Rumors, man.  That record should honestly cost, like, no money…  But they know that people are gonna buy it, that people want that record.

His label, Paper Bag Records, usually sells new vinyl records for $24.99.

Noting that most customers don’t know who to blame for the price high tags on vinyl records, he lamented,

I’ll charge $52.99 for the new Beyoncé record because it cost me $43.99.  I want to carry it for somebody to own it, but I’d like them to realize when they come in and they see it listed at $52.99 that I’m not, like, cleaning out their wallet.  It’s definitely not going to me.


Featured image by PXHere (CC0)

16 Responses

  1. so

    People just don’t understand how terrible margins are on vinyl records, especially via traditional retail.

    • Mark J

      I Paid $34 for Rumors
      and Metallicas Black album $27. I’m probably going to pay $36 for Pettys Greatest Hits double album also. I have a $5700 sound system and don’t mind paying for the 180 gram vinyl

      • Zachary

        I’ve come to notice that 180 pressing is just a waste of vinyl. But the 80s. That had got records to the best sound they ever had.
        And I think they were only pressed at 120.
        The only crap vinyl sold in the 90s were the Pearl Jam records.
        They were not pressed even at 120 standards. And we’re very delicate. I had 2 copies of Ten a copy of vs and Vitalogy..
        But one thing I can say. Vinyl back then was very clean. No Nicks or pops . Not warped. Unlike today I bought records that are noisy right out of the wrapper warped and almost don’t play. I think we need to start a site Totrack copies and complaints so that we can do something about these crappy $40 records. When we get stuck with them.
        I went to the record store and complained. Do you know he got pissed at me and said I don’t complain. I told him you’re part of the problem. In the 90s it was right on the record case it would even state. If you have a defect call this number or write this address. What do we do now.

        I just bought a copy of Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill on vinyl. 180 g $25. I pulled it out of its jacket for the first time and there was debris on the jacket or somewhere that record from the first play I click some pops and one deep scratch in it and the even miss some of the trimming of the vinyl. Shouldn’t we have someone to complain to.

  2. Versus

    “Too high” for what/whom?
    There is no absolute standard by which to set the price. It’s art, so (at least within a free market economy) it can be priced at any point the seller wishes.

    That said, in a free market, no one has to buy it. I won’t pay more than $20 for a single vinyl LP, perhaps $25 or so if it’s a really super high-fidelity pressing.

    So my vinyl purchasing has gone down from 10/month to almost zero/month over the last 2 years, due to the drastic price increases.

  3. it's inflation man

    $8.98 frontline LP price in 1981 = approx $25 in 2018 USD.

    • almark

      Now you’re making sense. These bozo’s that way to pay 50, go right ahead and waste your money on common music :/

  4. from the bunker

    Let’s not gloss over and colour it up..
    The over $35 price tags are excessive..
    It’s a greedy cash grab…

  5. Lino

    Charge less sell more…hopefully one day. I wouldn’t like vinyl to almost disappear again despite the new generations of music fans and their digital world.

  6. Stephen Raabe

    In early 90s when most titles were non-vinyl Jimi Hendrix reissues were 29.99 while I bought my copy of My Brother the Cow for $9.99 on vinyl. Exploitation continues.

    • Samuel Pelegrini

      True! In the 90s, when vinyl was at its height, it was really cheap. Here in Brazil, I could buy new vinyl for R$ 2 or 3, even 1! Then they stopped making it due to the boom of CD and now they turned it into a goldmine, no vinyl for less than R$ 80 now down here…

  7. Stoyan

    I get all my vinyls from 1CAD to 50cents from Spring book sales and I already have over 300 records most of the extremely valuable.

  8. Analoguedeep

    The problem i have with such a high cost on the medium today is quality of the lp. Sure 180. Gram weight is fine but how about the mastering and pressings. First of all most current releases are digital masters. So high res digital files are a better value. The experience of the engineers making cutting the records are not on par with the guys doing it in the 70’s.

    • Samuel Pelegrini

      True! Vinyl was at its height in the 90s. Best format today is lossless PCM/digital and CD, vinyl’s actually too poor in quality if compared to these.

  9. Stepper

    Buy a decent amount and pay $15-$20 USD per record, I don’t buy LPs usually though ($25-$30 when I do which seems fair) or the repressed albums that seem to be the fad in recent years.

  10. Patrick

    Not everyone realizes that for a quality pressing you’re talking about a $10 cost per record, without any of the recording/mixing/mastering/special-vinyl-mastering/lacquer cutting/cover-label design/etc. Never mind ANY shipping, marketing or distribution costs!! Or breakage!! I sincerely doubt it that there is THAT much “overcharging” by labels. Having said that, the music industry has been notorious at undervaluing their product (free CDs EVERYWHERE!!!) in both the market and in communication (we all know how much a blockbuster movie costs to make–it’s part of the marketing comm. — we NEVER know the costs of records!! And many have been in the millions of dollars with bands locking out $3K per day studios for months or even years!!! But you never heard about that. But I digress. Pricing will fall with more plants opening up and with increased demand, but minuscule retail and high shipping costs to end consumer by labels going direct will counterbalance that.