How the Pandemic Pushed Vinyl Records Back to the Shelves

We discuss L.A.’s vinyl record resurgence with shop owner Oren Pius and media distribution expert Andrew Rossiter
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After a long day of wandering Los Angeles’ many chaotic streets and crevices, nothing beats sitting back and spinning a record.

However, what used to be a hobby to many has transformed into a business. In fact, January brought the start of the new year alongside the news that vinyl records outsold CDs in the United States for the first time in 30 years. The same went for the country’s long-lost cousin, the United Kingdom.

According to an article by NME that sourced data from the MRC and Billboard, 38.3 percent of total album sales in 2021 were vinyl. That number accounted for 50 percent of all physical album sales—41.72 million sales out of a total of 82.79 million.

Looking further back at 2020, the number of vinyl records sold in 2021 represented a 51.4 percent increase over the 27.55 million swept off the shelves that year.

And no, it wasn’t The Beatles, The Stones, or Marvin Gaye filling everyone’s carts, but rather the new-age popstars. Adele, Taylor Swift, and Olivia Rodrigo. Adele’s ‘30’ sold a stunning 380,000 copies on vinyl, with Swift’s ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ and Rodrigo’s debut album, ‘Sour,’ shuffling out 268,000 each.

“I don’t know how many of these people that are buying pop records on vinyl are listening to them on turntables, or any of them are simply viewing them as a collector’s item to put on their shelf or put on their wall,” Andrew Rossiter, a partner and general manager at Org Music, told Los Angeles magazine. “A big part of it is… owning something, collecting something physical. With vinyl, you can often open it up—whether it’s a gatefold package, or there’s an insert, you can read the liner notes, and you’re not squinting, like you would be at a tiny CD package.”

With Record Store Day approaching on April 23, many people expect more of the same craze that has been going on. Such sales prompt an investigation of what caused the vinyl record resurgence, a cultural phenomenon that marks a crucial moment in the era of digital streaming.

And all signs point toward the pandemic.

Vinyl record sales saw a surge during the past few years, as music lovers and collectors alike shrunk their shelf space with albums. When working from home and being left with some leftover petty cash, why not start a collection?

Oren Pius, the owner of Echo Park’s record shop-cafe Cosmic Vinyl, has seen the woes of the vinyl business—he started selling records in 2004 and opened his shop in 2016, three years before COVID struck the world by surprise.

Inside Oren Pius’ shop, Cosmic Vinyl, in Echo Park. (Photo by Cosmic Vinyl)

Vinyl Records

“I think during the pandemic, a lot of people were trapped in their house, and they just got into records and they started ordering records… because it was easy to do,” Pius told Los Angeles magazine. “And now with so many companies, putting out new turntables, and all in one system, you know, as people could just pay 150 bucks, get a record player and start building the record collection.”

Social media continued to fuel the trend, with many businesses capitalizing on the ability to sell via platforms like Instagram. L.A. record shops like Permanent Records, Record Safari, and Pius’ own Cosmic Vinyl began to fill followers’ feeds with classic—and sometimes expensive—records.

“Everyone who had stores started selling the records on Instagram… they were doing sponsored ads. So even if people weren’t into records, they were like, ‘Oh, shit, what is all this about people selling records?’” Pius continued.

With the vinyl record and physical media industry booming, it created a now not-so-niche market for people to offload their albums. With this, came a significant rise in the pricing of records as a whole.

Different pressings of records come at a variety of prices, with the earlier and more exclusive versions tallying up the most expensive of tags. If you thought rent or gas inflation was bad, just take a quick glance at the drastic increase in value of records.

Oh, you know that Velvet Underground and Nico “banana” record that you bought for a few bucks back in the ‘70s? Congratulations, it’s now worth $2,000. That Nirvana “Nevermind” LP you bought when it was first released? $750. What about that pressing of Frank Ocean’s “Blond” that you picked up on 2016’s Record Store Day for $30? $700.

It’s hard to even mention this skyrocket in prices without mentioning the music database and marketplace, Discogs, which launched in 2000 and started allowing people to sell their media in 2005. Many people place their blame on the site for breaking the niche market that buying and selling vinyl records may once have been.

The Discogs application seen displayed on a Sony smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Discogs is unique in that it’s is putting all of these collectors—primarily music collectors—all in one place,” Rossiter said. “I don’t necessarily think that the platform itself is to blame, I think that this is a natural thing that happens with any, anything that’s limited in nature, or collectible, you’re going to get people that want to take advantage of that.”

Pius agrees, but he thinks that it’s more so the shops overpricing than a marketplace like Discogs. In the end, he just wants people to enjoy the music.

“I forgot who posted on their Instagram $100 for a pretty common album like… I just had that in, I sold it for like, 35 bucks,” Pius said. “How are you charging $100? Because people want it, so, you’re going to charge that? It’s just not fair; it’s not fair to someone that actually wants the album.”

Regardless of if it’s Discogs or the shops, older and newer vinyl records continue to rise in price. So, dig through your parent’s or grandparent’s attics and you might stumble upon your $1000 piece of wax gold.


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