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.