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A Modern Meld: Lessons from Vinyl + Digital

By Sara McGuyer • Mar 23rd, 2010 • Category: Analysis, Insight & Analysis

At first it seemed so convenient and full of instant gratification to buy music online, or even from my phone. I’ve been purchasing music via online download almost exclusively for the last four years. This was fueled in part by my green side telling me I’m saving on packaging materials and the transport of the product, and also by the fact that I had moved away from my favorite record store in Chicago.

Recently, I began to feel more disconnected from the music I’ve purchased. I missed checking out the album art, the process of browsing in the store and the recommendations you can get from shop employees. I had also read two blogs posts that got me thinking about buying vinyl again – this one about digitial readers and this one about tactile user experience. So, I broke my digital download streak and headed to LUNA in Indianapolis, an actual bricks and mortar shop.

The last time I had been vinyl shopping, maybe one out of thirty records offered a free digital download with purchase. But this trip, they filled the shelves. How awesome is that? You get the quality of vinyl, plus the ease of a download to enjoy the music the way we do – on the go, in the car, on our phone and iPods.


I am fascinated by this idea of combining old and new school. This movement toward vinyl+digital manages to satisfy the collector and the demand of current market trends. It forgoes forms that are often treated as disposable. Vinyl is typically bought for keeps, cds or other formats less so. How many people do you know who ditched their cd collection after downloading all of the music to iTunes?

Think of the other creative products that could benefit from a similar melding. I would love to see books go the same route. As a former bookseller, I personally had a hand in preparing hundreds, maybe thousands, of mass market books for the incredibly shameful practice of pulping (which is no different than the fiasco of H&M over disposing unsold goods, rather than donating them). That doesn’t even include magazines, which suffer the same fate when they languish on the newsstand. When a product is seen as so disposable by the very publishers of the material, it begs the question: Isn’t there another way?

What if publishers offered a free audio download or ebook version for your choice of electronic reader with the purchase of a hardcover? We can apply it to magazines as well. In bookshops and newsstands, we want glossies to thumb through. Maybe the shop could carry a few copies to browse and then serves as an access point to buy a digital version. With a year subscription, give readers a monthly online version that includes all of the ads and short articles, then provide one annual, high quality print version. Think coffee table book with the best articles and photos of the year, the features that merit a second look.

Despite declining sales in multiple sectors of the music industry, vinyl actually showed significant growth in 2009 according to statistics released by Nielson. Whether other products adopt this model remains to be seen, but there is a lesson to be learned from the vinyl+digital movement.  There’s always a fresh outcry when magazines and newspapers fail. Who really wants to see the end of print? Or the disappearance of music and book shops? Consumers still crave these spaces where we can engage with products, rifle through them and talk with proprietors who know the products well. And we will spend dollars on the products that fit with our lifestyles, that come in the form we want to consume. If you’re in an industry with shifting markets, can you find a way to please our nostalgia and modernity at once?

Sara McGuyer is an account strategist with Wise Elephant and marketing director/board member for the Indianapolis International Film Festival. Find her on twitter http://twitter.com/sara_mc
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One Response »

  1. http://gcharbonneaumusic.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/poor-sound-quality-vs-piracy/

    Great topic Sara!

    If you ever got a sec, I had a few words on my music blog recently.



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