Thursday, June 29, 2017

Vinyl Is Back

Records come round again: Sony to open vinyl factory in Japan

Major label’s Japanese arm to build new vinyl-pressing plant to keep up with growing demand for reissues and new releases on retro format.
 
A Tokyo record store manager shows off a period Japanese pressing of The Beatles’ final studio album Let It Be. Photograph: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images 
 
It has been dismissed as the niche domain of hipsters who don’t even have turntables and nostalgic dads buying countless reissues of Dark Side Of the Moon. But the resurrection of vinyl has been given major label backing, with the announcement by Sony Music that it will restart the manufacture of its own records.

The Japanese arm of Sony Music announced it would open its own record-pressing plant in March next year to cope with the huge demand for vinyl in the country. 

Sony Music Japan shut down its in-house vinyl pressing production in 1989 after the advent of CDs, which entered the market in 1982 and were dominantfor the next two decades.

However, in a trend mirrored worldwide, vinyl sales in Japan have rocketed over the past four years and the country’s sole vinyl-pressing factory is unable to cope with demand, prompting Sony to step in.
It is a similar story in Europe, where most vinyl for major and independent labels is pressed by just two plants, GZ media based in the Czech Republic, and Record Industry in the Netherlands. However, their combined capacity of more than 100,000 records per day is not enough to keep up with global appetite. 

“It’s actually too good,” said Record Industry’s owner, Ton Vermeulen, last year. “Demand is sky-high and we’re having to turn people away, which I don’t like doing.”

The boom in vinyl sales is attributed to two factors: older generations who have long been attached to the format, and also a younger audience used to digital forms of music who want to own a physical format; with CDs in decline, vinyl has become a popular alternative.

“A lot of young people buy songs that they hear and love on streaming services,” said Michinori Mizuno, chief executive of Sony Music Japan.

Factory worker Aga Dolega-Lawry places a master record into a pressing machine to make copies of Definitely Maybe by Oasis at The Vinyl Factory in Hayes, UK. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images 

The decision by Sony to invest in its own vinyl-pressing plant is currently limited to Japan. The records released will primarily be older Japanese reissues, and some new albums, and the records will mainly be sold in that country.

Nonetheless, the decision has wider implications for the global music industry, which has experienced a surprisingly fast reversal of fortunes this year thanks to the phenomenon of streaming and the worldwide clamour for vinyl. 

The surge in demand for vinyl in the UK and Europe, propelled by events such as Record Store Day, has put enormous pressure on few remaining pressing plants. If sales continue to climb – 3.2m vinyl records were sold in the UK in 2016, up 53% on the year before – Sony may not be the only label wanting its own manufacturing plants, as was common practice in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst, is not surprised by Sony’s move. “There’s no doubt vinyl is a market that will keep growing – even now globally there’s not enough capacity for making vinyl to meet the demand,” he said. “As a result the pressing plants can charge the labels a really high premium. So there may well be a profit incentive for more labels to reopen their own plants.”

However, Mulligan said the move would “require a lot of investment, not just in materials but also in expertise, training people up”.

“At the moment, consumers are willing to pay a high premium for vinyl – people will happily pay £40 for a limited edition record – and so labels are still making a wide profit margin. But if demand continues to rise, I can see labels wanting to take control of their own destiny when it comes to producing vinyl, so this may be repeated by others in the future. It’s all tied in to supply and demand.”

Fittingly, Record Industry is based in an old Sony Records vinyl plant bought in 1998 by Vermeulen, a Dutch former DJ, to press dance records. After a tricky patch seven years ago, the plant is on course to press 11m records this year – more than double the amount pressed in 2014. About 60% were reissues of old music but new records pressed in the factory included recordings by Jamiroquai, Lady Gaga and Beth Ditto.

Sales manager Anouk Rijnders said she was not worried by Sony’s move to press its own vinyl as it was primarily for the Asian market.

“For us it’s not a concern ... I don’t expect huge levels of production from them for at least the first few years,” she said. “We produce 40,000 to 50,000 records a day, but making vinyl is a very delicate process you need the people and the knowledge to do it, so I think they might struggle with that.

“I do think we are expecting to see vinyl sales rise for another two or years. It is not a passing fad, I think the return of vinyl is something that will continue for years to come.”

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