This week, the New York Times did a profile on Vince Slusarz, the corporate-attorney-turned-record-presser who owns Cleveland’s Gotta Groove Records. But one of the most interesting parts of the story was buried in a single quote toward the middle of the article.
Slusarz said that vinyl sales are a lot bigger than some people expect. But here’s where people got really excited: Slusarz said that number was about 85 percent bigger than the Nielsen SoundScan service reports.
“SoundScan only gets about 15 percent,” Slusarz said in the New York Times article. The article points to indie retailers or homemade websites as the cause of this unreported number, and before long, articles started popping up online that stated that SoundScan only picked up 15 percent of vinyl sales.
But with such a huge number, you have to wonder: Could this be for real?
We caught up with Slusarz and Dave Bakula, the senior vice president of entertainment analytics for Nielsen to understand what was going on in the world of vinyl.
Overall it’s not the independent retailers, who sell the bulk of vinyl in the U.S., who aren’t counting the numbers, Bakula said.
“We absolutely count independent record stores,” Bakula said, who also added that the methodology for counting vinyl records is the same as counting CDs. This means that anything with a bar code, anything that’s being sold within a store is probably showing up on SoundScan’s radar.
And although it’s inspiring to think, this doesn’t mean that Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues sales numbers are much higher than SoundScan’s reported numbers of 26,000 units sold. And that’s something that Slusarz backed up when he talked to Paste.
“I ensure that there are more established plants that do more big label work that is in fact getting recorded in SoundScan,” Slusarz said. “There’s no question about that. But on the other hand, a lot of stuff that’s distributed here in the states through the major labels is getting pressed overseas, so I’m assuming those numbers are getting recorded.”
But something that the two talked about at length was this off-the-grid market, which includes the small, barcode-less albums that people are selling on their own.
“There will be things that are sold in places that are not trackable,” Bakula said. “There are going to be sales without UPCs that are not possible to track. There will be people that sell product out of the trunk of their car that we can’t track. But knowing the number of retail outlets that we cover and the number of UPCs we cover, I’m pretty confident that we’ve got pretty comprehensive coverage.”
Slusarz had similar things to say about these sales, but maintained his original point that the vinyl market is much bigger than numbers currently state.
“Most of the stuff we press, it doesn’t have a barcode,” Slusarz said. “It’s going directly to an artist or to a record label, so I’m pretty confident that the market for records through the volume produced per year is at least in the 15 to 20 million records-produced range.”
Slusarz also said that while his plant may press that many records, they’re not necessarily sold. Vinyl is a one-time-buy kind of transaction, and shipments can’t be returned for refund, so once labels have the items they are stuck with it.
So with so many records being produced, it’s hard to tell where and if they are being sold. But one reassuring fact that both parties are happy about is that people still demand physical media.