Everything old becomes new again. Toy cameras live on as Instagram filters, ancient texts are reborn as ebooks, and Betty White just keeps on kickin’. Even as digital music sales rise and CD sales continue to fall, vinyl has held on for the past 60 years as the audiophile’s format of choice.
Limited Run, which was founded in 2009, has been rebuilt from the ground up to help record labels sell vinyl records. Despite this focus on what in tech years is an ancient format, Limited Run has embraced the digital revolution while profiting from music goers’ anachronistic tendencies.
Vinyl sales actually rose 99 percent during 2011, despite increased competition from a number of streaming music services. Limited Run is capitalizing on the trend by incorporating vinyl-specific features into the typical ecommerce shop, such as Cart Limiting and “Digital Street Date.”
Cart Limiting works just as the name suggests. Retailers can set a maximum number of copies that a single person can buy in order to curb “record flipping,” a fairly common practice that sees the vinyl equivalent of scalpers buying limited edition records and selling them at a premium. Keeping the price of vinyl low allows a new generation of listeners to experience the pops and clicks of a vinyl record and can help maintain the vinyl industry’s growth.
Digital Street Date is akin to preordering a record on iTunes in that it notifies users when an album is available for download. In Limited Run’s case, a user may purchase the vinyl version of an album that will ship some point after the record’s release date. Instead of making the user wait for their vinyl to come in, Limited Run also will allow users to download the album at the same time as everyone else so they don’t miss out on the fun.
Limited Run’s focus on vinyl doesn’t indicate a lack of energy spent on refining the digital experience. The company has integrated with SoundCloud, the Web’s latest darling music service, in both directions. Tracks that are uploaded to Limited Run can be pushed to SoundCloud with the check of a box, and product pages on the site embed SoundCloud’s player to provide music streaming.
“When we decided to rebuild we said, ‘We are integrating with SoundCloud because they’re the best, and they are essentially taking over audio.’” Limited Run’s Nick Mango says. “There is no streaming on our site without SoundCloud.”
As long as vinyl sales continue to climb, and Limited Run continues to give record labels what they need to sell those records online, the company’s business model is secure. There is still one question, though: Why has vinyl survived where other formats have failed?
“A lot of artists are saying that their album is not really out until it’s on vinyl. One of the reasons [for vinyl's increased popularity] is that people listen to digital music while they’re doing other things. Digital music is almost like a soundtrack to the rest of your life,” Mango says. “Whereas with vinyl, you can’t really do anything but listen to the music.”
Despite the convenience of a digital copy, then, it’s clear that listeners still desire a physical product that they can experience in a tangible, meaningful way. Magazines, newspapers, and ebooks are the same way – ask a bibliophile if they prefer paper books or ebooks and watch as the vein in their forehead swells dangerously – but it seems that magazines are the only other form of media that is willing to provide physical and digital products concurrently and for the same price.
Unlike most magazines’ digital editions, however, digital music has evolved into a mature product. Vinyl may offer a superior sound to most digital formats, but lossless (uncompressed, generally) audio files come damned close to matching the quality while remaining mobile and accessible no matter where the listener may be.
By managing the sale of vinyl (the physical product) and making it easier to manage digital downloads (via SoundCloud, “Download Street Date”, etc.) Limited Run is bridging the gap between the nostalgia of the past and the convenience of the present.
In the immortal words of Steve Perry: “Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it.”
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]