Urban Outfitters isn’t just a purveyor of offensive sweatshirts and other provocative items for the 18 to 28-year-old hipster demographic – it’s also now the leading seller of vinyl albums in the world, according to a Buzzfeed report, contributing to what Statista cites as vinyl’s surprising 250 percent sales spike since 2002 at a time when overall music sales have dropped by 50 percent.
“Music is very, very important to the Urban customer,” said Calvin Hollinger, the company’s chief administrative officer, at a meeting with analysts Wednesday, as reported by Buzzfeed. “In fact, we are the world’s number one vinyl seller.” The company doesn’t own the vinyl itself, says Joe Veix of Death and Taxes, but rather, “Similar to how Wal-Mart manages its stock,” he writes, “the company essentially just rents out its coveted shelves to roughly 100 different vendors.”
Older vinyl lovers have cited their love of the sound quality and album art, but what’s accounting for this increase in vinyl interest among Millennials who grew up with Napster, Spotify and Pandora? Veix speculates – without evidence, it should be noted – that “vinyl is now primarily purchased as a fashion accessory, bought not for the music it contains, but for the lifestyle it conveys.”
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But as Geoff Taylor, CEO of British music industry group BPI, told Agence France-Presse, “We’re witnessing a renaissance for records — they’re no longer retromania and are becoming the format of choice for more music fans.” So although the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” — a 1969 release — was the No. 1 LP in 2010, the bestselling vinyl record last year in the U.S. and Britain was “Random Access Memories” by French electronic duo Daft Punk, while hipster favorite Vampire Weekend’s “modern Vampires of the City” came in second.
Although the vinyl revival that Urban Outfitters is helping to spur might sound impressive, Claire Suddath of Bloomberg businessweek cautions against seeing it as a sign of a resurgence in record sales in general. “Vinyl sales make up only 1.4 percent of all albums sold so far [in 2013],” according to Nielsen SoundScan,” she writes. To put it in perspective, she continues, “The number of LPs sold in the U.S. represents 3.7 percent of compact discs sold this year, and less than 1 percent of the online streaming audience for the novelty song behind ‘Harlem Shake’ – and it’s the same number of albums sold by rock band Asia in 1982. If you want to save the music industry, you’re going to have to do better than Asia.”