By Andrew Nusca
June 30, 2017

The year was 1989. The president was a newly elected George H.W. Bush. The hair was, well, teased.

The music? “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “Like a Prayer,” “Right Here Waiting,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

And, notably, it was the last time that Sony pressed a vinyl record, giving way to both the popularity of cassette tapes as well as the then-new digital format known as the compact disc, which Sony had a key role in developing.

After a 28-year hiatus, Sony announced this week that it plans to open a new facility in Japan dedicated to pressing vinyl records. It’s a back-to-the-future announcement at a time when the true digital music revolution—downloaded and streaming via always-on Internet connectivity—has quickly grown to dominate listening habits.

According to Japan’s recording industry association, the country produced nearly 200 million records per year in the mid-1970s. That’s unlikely to return. But while many of us have been content to wirelessly download our music, a surprising number of people are going to the store—or Amazon.com, let’s be honest—and purchasing a vinyl record, sleeve and all.

Deloitte, the global consulting firm, predicts that global revenue for vinyl records and related accessories (e.g. turntables) will reach $1 billion this year. It’s a rise so rapid that, in Japan at least, the remaining factory—there’s only one—pumping out vinyl, Toyokasei, can’t keep up, according to a Nikkei report.

In the U.S., boutique outlets such as Jack White’s Third Man Pressing in Detroit, SunPress Vinyl in Miami, and vinyl-only labels like Warner Music’s Run Out Groove and U.K.-based Omertà have emerged.

Is vinyl back? Not quite, warns Deloitte. Though 20 million people around the world are predicted to purchase a vinyl record this year, the format will likely remain niche, albeit high-margin. Vinyl is back, but only as a collectible. The rest of us, meanwhile, will keep on streaming.

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