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Stacks of wax: Record Store Day means business for local music shops

For Rupert Wondolowski, the co-owner of a vintage book and record store in Waverly, Saturday is Christmas.

Rupert Wondolowski, co-owner of Normal's bookstore in Waverly says sales of vinyl records in his store have increased noticeably in the last four years. He says Record Store Day, an annual event to promote local music retailers, is comparable to a day in the Christmas shopping season for the business. (Josh Cooper/The Daily Record)

The 7th annual Record Store Day, a promotional event created by three coalitions of independent music stores — the Department of Record Stores, the Alliance of Independent Media Stores and the Coalition of Independent Music Stores — is designed to encourage music lovers to make local purchases.

“I think people save up and make it like a guilt-free splurge day and hit all the stores they know,” Wondolowski said.

His shop, Normal’s bookstore, sees roughly double the traffic it does on a normal Saturday, and sale volume is comparable to a shopping day in weeks leading up to Christmas.

Department of Record Stores Director of Marketing Carrie Colliton, a co-founder of Record Store Day, said the event has grown in popularity.

“Every year we think it can’t get bigger and every year it does,” Colliton said.

Now, more than 1,000 stores participate in the U.S. and other countries, she said. The event has garnered so much attention, labels have begun coordinating releases of new albums to coincide with Record Store Day.

The event’s success has coincided with a broad rise in the popularity of the vinyl format, Colliton said, and, in some ways, Record Store Day has contributed to the growth.

“We definitely played a part in [vinyl’s rise in popularity],” she said. “I don’t think vinyl would have come back as big or as strong if Record Store Day hadn’t shined a spotlight on the stores that carry it.”

In 2012, 7.1 million vinyl albums were sold, up from 1.3 million in 2007, according to figures from the Recording Industry Association of America’s annual survey of music sales. In dollars, vinyl albums sold $162.6 million worth of records, compared to $16.7 million in 2005, adjusted for inflation. Last year represented the largest year-over-year increase in vinyl sales revenue since 1973.

Music store operators reflect on the success of this year’s Record Store Day

The increase in vinyl contrasts the trend in music sales generally. In the decade ending in 2012, music sales across all formats decreased from almost $16.1 billion to just over $706 million, adjusted for inflation.

While vinyl sales are growing, they represent only 2 percent of the overall music market. RIAA’s vice president of strategic data analysis, Josh Friedlander, said the music industry as a whole has gone through several transitional periods in recent years. The first wave of digital music came around 2003 with the advent of digital music stores like iTunes. Friedlander said consumers have entered a second stage of digital music, one where subscription services like Spotify and Rdio have become more popular. Subscription services have become the fastest growing sector in the industry.

Operators of local music stores, of which there are roughly half a dozen in Baltimore, are noting the trends. Philip Ley, manager at The Sound Garden in Fells Point, said sales of vinyl records have increased, while sales of CDs have decreased. He estimates that close to 40 percent of the store’s music sales are vinyl records, and that that number has grown over time.

He attributes vinyl’s popularity, in part, to the sound quality. Ley prefers vinyl records when he wants to devote his full attention to music.

“For people who still prefer physical media, vinyl sounds better than CDs,” Ley said. “When I’m doing nothing but listening to music, I want to listen to a record. For me, CDs and MP3 downloads are for when I’m in the car or doing other things.”

For The Sound Garden, Record Store Day is the busiest day of the year. It will release many exclusive titles and have an in-store concert by local rock band Clutch. In past years, Ley said, several hundred people started to form a line at about 3 a.m., six hours before the store opened.

Owen Gardner, an employee of The True Vine in Hampden said the increase in interest in vinyl may be a reaction to the ubiquity of digital media, and the nature of digital products.

“MP3s are kind of an alienating medium,” he said. “To me, it takes some of the value out of music because you see it as just data. People are becoming more interested in objects they can relate to, and feel the physicality of.”

Gardner said there’s also an interactive aspect to shopping at a record store that can’t be found when downloading music on the Internet.

“I’d like to think that people are also trying to invest in their communities and show support for alternative spaces like record stores,” he said. “It’s a social as well as a commercial venture, maybe more so.”

Many in the music-selling business in Baltimore said young and artistically inclined people in the city have been good for record stores. Several have even garnered national attention.

In the most recent issue, Billboard magazine ranked The Sound Garden among the 13 best record stores in the country, and in 2010, Rolling Stone ranked The Sound Garden second in the country and The True Vine at 17th.

“Just due to the city we’re in, we have a good chance of survival in this industry,” said Dustin Thornton, another manager at The Sound Garden. “We’re in a good spot here.”

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The following interactive chart shows the increase in sales of vinyl record albums in the last two decades, in millions of inflation-adjusted dollars. (Data source: Recording Industry Association of America. Chart by Josh Cooper.)

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