Pandemic blues fuel vinyl record sales

Music store owner Petr Rakosnik sorting vinyl records in his shop in Prague, Czech Republic. The pandemic has sparked a vinyl revival despite the popularity of digital options. PHOTO: REUTERS

PRAGUE • House-bound music lovers starved of live shows during the coronavirus pandemic got their groove on with vinyl records instead, fuelling a buying boom that drove the world's biggest LP maker to its best-ever annual sales and profit.

GZ Media, which presses records ranging from superstar Lady Gaga to independent punk band Cock Sparrer, saw sales jump 11 per cent to four billion crowns (S$248 million) and shipped 38 million LPs last year, said chief executive Michal Sterba.

"It was a record year," he said during a tour of the company's factory some 20km outside Prague, Czech Republic, where GZ Media has pressed albums since 1951.

The factory employs 1,800 people and the company also runs pressing plants in North America.

He expects revenue to rise to 4.7 billion crowns this year.

GZ Media's banner year follows a vinyl revival over the past decade despite the popularity and instant access of digital media and easy-to-use streaming sites such as Apple's iTunes and Spotify.

"A lot of people started to buy their own audio systems and vinyl records, probably because they stayed home and there were not as many options like concerts, pubs and bars," said Mr Sterba, as white-gloved workers transferred freshly stamped LPs into a box to cool before packaging.

GZ Media sales dipped at the start of the lockdown early last year, but demand soared in the second half, he added.

"Right now, vinyl records are moving from niche markets of music collectors, music lovers and audiophiles to a wider consumer base representing a young generation who found their way to vinyl," he said.

In the United States - the world's biggest vinyl market - 27.5 million LPs were sold last year, up 46 per cent from 2019, according to German-based market and consumer data company Statista.

Music sales data firm MRC said 51 albums sold at least 50,000 copies in the US, up from just 23 in 2019, with the year's top-selling LP, Harry Styles' Fine Line, selling 232,000 copies.

"Buying vinyl is like buying antiquities," said Mr Petr Rakosnik, owner of a Prague music store. "Vinyl has an amazing sound."

GZ Media also produces CDs, DVDs and packaging, but vinyl drives about 65 per cent of the group's revenue, Mr Sterba said.

A richer sound, cover art and the ability to cradle a vinyl record contribute to the growing emotional appeal for LPs, said Czech DJ Jiri Holubec.

"When I take a record by Charlie Parker from the 1950s, I can see and feel his music physically stamped in there," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2021, with the headline Pandemic blues fuel vinyl record sales. Subscribe