A fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal this morning takes a look at the unexpected resurgence of the vinyl record industry—with sales up 49 percent this year—and the sorry state of the few remaining factories that are struggling to press all those records.
Factories are struggling with outdated machinery that's no longer even manufactured, forced to wait months for replacement parts and search the world for out-of-commission machines they might be able to buy, says Neil Shah. But that's not all: There are hardly any suppliers of the material needed to make the records themselves—raw polyvinyl chloride—left. Alternative supply chains have sprung up in the wake of the massive boom in record sales, but things are still incredibly tenuous, with the supply of raw vinyl coming from Thailand to a single three-person company that supplies "the vast majority" of the vinyl to record factories in the U.S.
So not only are these factories' decades-old record pressing machines constantly breaking down, it's also tough to even get the vinyl needed to make the records. As a result, labels are dogged by delays—which wouldn't be such a big deal, if vinyl sales weren't absolutely exploding. Shah explains:
Record labels are waiting months for orders that used to get filled in weeks. That is because pressing machines spit out only around 125 records an hour. To boost production, record factories are running their machines so hard—sometimes around the clock—they have to shell out increasing sums for maintenance and repairs.
So next time you complain about your clear, scented Lana Del Ray special edition deluxe pressing being delayed, consider the jerry-rigged manufacturing process that's feeding your hunger for vinyl. [Wall Street Journal]
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