Shopping for records gives us the unique opportunity to feel physically connected to music in a world where media is almost exclusively digital. But sometimes it can be intimidating. Walking among the rows and rows of vinyl can feel like swimming in the open ocean. Where do you start? How do you find new music you’ll like instead of pawing over the stuff you already have?
While streaming services like Spotify continue to thrive from offering a combination of convenience and personalized playlists, Universal Music has stepped it up to offer a similarly curated vinyl service. And while it’s probably good news for vinyl, it might be bad news for record stores.
Universal Music Enterprises announced Thursday that it’s combining the modernity of mobile technology and a recommendation engine with the vintage sound quality of records to expand your horizons without betraying your love of vinyl. “The Sound of Vinyl” is a record club like in the old days, but it operates a lot differently. Members will receive SMS text messages about records that the service recommends based on their stated preferences and past purchases. Club members will be able to respond with simple commands such as “Like,” “Dislike,” and “Own,” to enhance their recommendations, as well as purchase recommended albums by responding “Yes” and paying with a credit card number that’s on file.
UME executives want the Sound of Vinyl to compete with big retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Urban Outfitters — the top vinyl sellers, according to Billboard — by offering hardcore vinyl fans the opportunity to buy albums at discounted prices, as well as deluxe reissues.
Even though the club caters to vinyl aficionados, this new business model could be hard on the record stores they love. Record stores, which often operate with slim profit margins, do a lot of business selling deluxe reissues, especially on Record Store Day. And since The Sound of Vinyl will cut out these retailers through its direct-to-consumer model, the community cultivated in and around record stores could be in trouble if this interactive record club succeeds.
UME hopes that vinyl fans will be convinced that the Sound of Vinyl is a better way to buy records, bringing in bonus features like curated lists from credibility-lending musicians like Black Flag’s Henry Rollins and other artists. If you don’t want to use SMS — because it still feels a little strange — you can always use the Sound of Vinyl’s website. But to be fair, the idea of simply sending a text to buy a record could end up being pretty tempting.