Vinyl records: The new hot wax

As digital music struggles, the business finds growth in an old technology.

You might think the scratch of needle to vinyl would be an unlikely survivor in the digital download age. But vinyl record sales are back in high rotation. According to Nielsen SoundScan statistics, 2.8 million vinyl records were sold in the United States in 2010 — the highest number since the group began tracking record sales in 1991.

While Nielsen’s 2010 statistics for Canada have yet to be released, it’s safe to say the vinyl throwback has made its way north as well. Two years ago, the same ratings found that Canadian vinyl record sales had broken the two million mark for the first time since 1991.

Independent music retailers are the primary beneficiaries of the niche boom, along with bands and record labels that press vinyl along with the standard CD release. Nielsen’s numbers represent only a fraction of vinyl industry sales as well — not all independent retailers are surveyed, and second-hand sales aren’t included.

Industry experts and retailers credit music fans for the focus on vinyl, saying a small backlash against digital downloads has led some customers toward searching out higher sound quality, as well as the more authentic experience of physically putting on a record. All this has led Nielsen to rank vinyl as the fastest-growing musical format of 2010.