Love vinyl, but why is it so expensive? Shouldn’t prices be coming DOWN?

When CDs were first introduced in the early 80s, they were hellishly expensive. The MSRP of a disc averaged around $25, which when accounting for inflation, is more than $50 today.

“Not to worry,” we were told, “the price will come down as more CD manufacturing plants come online.”

That made sense since, in 1983, there were just two factories on the entire planet.

But then a funny thing happened. Despite dozens of pressing plants opening up, prices didn’t come down. Not appreciably, anyway. By the time we got to the middle 90s, we were still paying an average of $20 per disc.

That perceived gouging, along with the industry’s arrogant move to phase out singles, pissed off millions of music consumers. No wonder illegal file-sharing exploded and the market for CDs eventually went into freefall.

History is now repeating itself with vinyl.

When the vinyl resurrection took root in 2008, the industry was caught flat-footed. Because CDs had almost destroyed the vinyl market over the previous two decades, more than 90% of the vinyl pressing plants had been closed. Those that still existed were suddenly swamped with orders. The equipment was also old, hard to maintain and when it broke down, parts were hard to come by.

Because the availability of vinyl records was severely constrained, the law of supply and demand ruled. Prices were high.

“Not to worry,” we were told, “the price will come down once more vinyl pressing plants come online.”

Yeah, no. Despite the increase in manufacturing capacity, vinyl prices have continued to go up. WTF?

Ben Rayner of the Toronto Star takes a look at the situation.

The breaking point, for me, was $64.98 for the new Queens of the Stone Age album.

Granted, it was a deluxe, limited-edition double-vinyl version of last year’s Villains with 14 art prints tucked into the gatefold packaging and an “alternate etching” on Side 4 — and, to be fair, Matador Records has a $35 vinyl version of the record out there, too — but even this longtime record collector and superfan of Queens had to draw the line at dropping $65, before taxes, on a single recording.

That’s what one might expect to pay for a lower-end Queens of the Stone Age concert ticket these days or maybe a hard-to-find early pressing of one of the band’s previous records, not a new release that currently retails for $10.88 on CD through Amazon.ca.

Even $35 as a “cheaper” vinyl alternative would have seemed obscene just a few years ago. But as anyone who’s been buying or selling vinyl over the past few years is aware, $30 and up is increasingly the new normal for new LPs — at a time when new record shops are sprouting everywhere, vinyl plants are opening again for the first time since the CD drove the format to the brink of extinction during the 1990s, newer and more efficient presses are being developed for the first time in 30 years and sales of LPs have surged from a low point of less than one million units in the U.S. in 2005 to 14.3 million pieces in the States last year.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “Love vinyl, but why is it so expensive? Shouldn’t prices be coming DOWN?

  • February 11, 2018 at 1:18 pm
    Permalink

    Alan, it would seem to me that the recording industry is trying very hard to cut its nose off to spite its face. History has shown the high price of physical copies of music has driven would be consumers to other avenues of acquiring music not the least of which is illegal download. I have been a consumer of music since the early 70’s and was angered when the labels decided for me that CD’s would be my only viable choice to own phisical copies of music, I therefore found it somewhat amusing when consumers thumbed their nose at the recording industry and started stealing music that was made available to easily take by the very format that was rammed down our throat.
    These days I currently own a 1300 album (and growing) record library, my record purchases have decreased significantly as of late due to the ever increasing prices, I’ve recently found myself streaming a lot more than obtaining physical copies.
    When we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them and the recording industry will be standing on the street begging soon enough all the while complaining how those of us who would be otherwise willing to spend our dollars on physical media are now taking food off their tables by obtaining our music in ways that do not put $ in their pockets.

    Reply
  • February 11, 2018 at 4:30 pm
    Permalink

    The prices are crazy and the part that really gets me is the secondary or used market. I understand that they’re out to make a buck and will charge higher prices when they can I’m relation to the market as a whole, but it’s crazy to me that 20 years ago I bought a mint copy of The Wall for $7 and now see the same in stores and online for $25+.

    Reply
  • February 12, 2018 at 8:43 am
    Permalink

    You site inflation when speaking about CD prices. Applying that same metric, what would a record cost today if you account for that same inflation from the 80’s? Last time I checked it was north of $25. And there are vastly fewer presses in operation now than in the 80’s. Yes, it seems like there are a slew of new plants coming on line, but when those plants are running one or two presses it doesn’t help the overall supply/demand paradigm. You have a nice c.v. It was disappointing to read an article that didn’t properly dissect the issue. Do better work.

    Reply
    • February 12, 2018 at 8:46 am
      Permalink

      Actually, it does make sense because the rate of inflation on vinyl is above and beyond even what manufacturing can supply. Why are some reissues approaching $50? That’s insane.

      Reply
      • February 12, 2018 at 7:09 pm
        Permalink

        I agree that $50 for a catalog reissue (or a NR) is stupid. Some companies don’t think about the long arc of the market. However, the average of $25-$30 aligns with inflation and is a bit lower than inflation would dictate. Better to clearly state the average price than get caught in the weeds of some heinous pricing.

        Reply

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.