Dust off the Turntable: Record Sales Jump

No, no, no, no, no, yesss.

Bobby Strobeck, 21, is thumbing through vinyl records at End of an Ear, a record store that is walking distance from his house in South Austin. He has just struck gold: an original U.S. mono pressing of his favorite Beatles album, "Revolver."

The corners of the cover are bent, but he forgives. Strobeck slides the record out, handling it as if it were his baby. After a trip to the till, that record will have a new home in Strobeck's growing collection.

This year, End of an Ear's vinyl record sales are up 50 percent to 80 percent a month compared to 2008. The phenomenon doesn't stop at this little record store that could and it does not end in Austin.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl began making a national comeback in 2007.

Putting 'the Experience' Into Music

Though vinyl sales account for less than 1 percent of sales, Rollingstone.com reports that the number of records sold last year jumped to 1.88 million from 988,000 in 2007.

The reason, collectors say, is because it puts the experience back into music.

"Music is so much more than a 99 cent Soulja Boy song on a phone," Strobeck said. "Some people really want the album experience. The art, the liner notes. There is no better way to get that experience than through vinyl records."

'The Real Thing'

The Recording Industry Association of America officially acknowledged a resurgence of vinyl records when statistics proved it in 2007. That year, the American music industry saw a 46.2 percent revenue increase for vinyl sales. By comparison, CD revenue sales dropped 20.5 percent in the same period.

"CDs are convenient, but vinyls feel like it's the real thing," said Dan Plunkett, co-owner of End of an Ear.

Plunkett and business partner Blake Carlisle opened End of an Ear four years ago. They are both often behind the cash register, drinking Harp lager and taking turns at putting a record on the turntable to share with customers.

"There's a noticeable difference in audio quality," Carlisle said. "A CD is thinner and flatter. It's just a compressed format that spins really fast while lasers hit it. With vinyl, there's an actual needle playing over the grooves. It's what music is supposed to sound like."

Flipping Through Stacks

Walking into the record store on South First Street, the first thing a visitor notices is the stands of records that take center stage. Though CDs line the walls of the store, most customers flip through records, using their pointer and middle fingers methodically to inspect them one-by-one.

Place cards divide the records by genre and artist, but it is common to find a Spoon album that doesn't belong in the Sufjan Stevens section. And not everyone would agree that Robert Goulet deserves to be under the "Strange" genre. Record finding is clearly a hunting sport.

"It's as much about looking for them as owning them," record collector Michael Rosenthal said. "It's just like collecting anything. It's fun to get good deals on ones you know should cost more."

Different Sizes and Speeds

Vinyl records were the primary medium for commercial music in the 20th century before digital media took hold. They have come in different sizes and played at different speeds.

There are two common forms today. The 12-inch, or long-play, spins at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. The 7-inch, or extended-play, spins at 45 rpm.

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