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Now trending: vinyl is back in style

Every edition we assess an aspect of the French zeitgeist. This month: the renaissance of vinyl album sales, by Jane Hanks

Vinyl records are back in fashion. They were threatened with extinction, but they refused to become the dinosaurs of the disc world and now sales are on the increase. You can once again leaf through boxes of albums in mainstream music chain stores and they make up 75% of sales in independent record shops. 

Maggie Doherty is Vice-President of Club Action des Labels Indépendants Français (Calif), an association which supports independent record shops and producers: “Some years ago there was a huge slump in the vinyl record market. The CD became king and vinyl totally disappeared from the big chains,” she says. “Everybody thought that digital recordings were the only way forward. But now vinyl is back and the market is getting bigger all the time.”

Latest figures from the record industry, the Syndicat National de l’Edition Phonographique (SNEP), back this up. Even though the sale of discs in general is going down, replaced by streaming and downloads, the sale of vinyl albums went up by a massive 73.5% from June 2016 to June 2017.

Maggie Doherty says it is part of the general trend where people are searching for authentic experiences: “At first music fans started buying vinyl, even before they had a player because they looked so much better than a CD. With most vinyls you also get a free digital copy with a download code. However, it is not just the look. The sound is very different.”

She says the first time she heard a recent vinyl disc was a revelation: “I thought maybe there was something wrong. I could hear every note and even every little mistake. I realised it was far more “real” than a digital recording.

“I think the emotion is stronger and it touches people more. It is not a nostalgic thing. It is a recognition that vinyl gives something which was lost by digitalisation.” The fact it is not just for the sake of the good old days is borne out by the fact that two out of three buyers are under 50 years old and under 30’s provide nearly half the turnover of sales.

In 2007 an American launched a Record Store Day to promote independent record companies and shops. This has spread across the world and it happens everywhere on the third Saturday in April. 

In France, it was established in 2011 and is called Disquaire Day (a disquaire is a record dealer). Last year, 240 record shops in 90 towns took part.

All the record producers, including the major ones, press special vinyl discs for the occasion, and in 2017, more than 300 special vinyl records were issued just for that day in France and sold exclusively in independent record stores. Organised by Calif, it has financial backing from the Minister of Culture because the government recognises the value of having record shops in towns: “It is really positive”, says Mrs Doherty. “It means that there is a place for people to go and discuss music, as the owners of these shops are usually passionate people who want to pass on their love of music.”

Calif gives help with the rent for the first three years of a new shop’s life. In the past five years, around ten have opened each year, and in 2017 that rose to twenty.

Eight months ago, Jean-Pierre Ahtuam opened Fat Wang Records in the heart of Paris. He specialises in Electronic music and he only sells vinyls: “I would say most of my customers are aged between 23 and 35. There is a whole new generation interested in my kind of music and so it was possible to open a shop. They like to go to a physical place to buy and a lot of the kids like to buy second hand finds. The increase in vinyl is happening on an international scale and the major record labels are interested.” 

To find your nearest record shop & for information about Disquaire Day, 2018 go to disquaireday.fr and www.calif.fr.

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