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Worldwide Vinyl Shortage Delays Production, Prompts Artists to Consider Other Physical Formats

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record vinyl salesrecord vinyl sales Photo Credit: Victrola

Factors including supply-chain disruptions, heightened chemical prices, and unprecedented demand are contributing to a vinyl shortage – prompting some artists to opt against releasing music via the resurging format.

More than a few creators and professionals have commented on the far-reaching effects of the ongoing vinyl shortage, in terms of both manufacturing delays and increased costs. A number of artists recently acknowledged that they’re turning to the comparatively easy-to-make CDs and cassettes to satisfy fans’ desire for physical releases, for instance. And the Vinyl Alliance early last year identified “the broken supply chain” as the space’s “biggest issue.”

Chesapeake, Virginia-headquartered Vinyl Alliance’s unsettling observation arrived shortly after COVID-19 lockdown orders went into effect – drastically limiting air travel – and Apollo/Transco burned down. The Banning, California, facility was one of two known establishments (the other being Japan’s MDC) that created the lacquer discs used to form vinyl master discs, from which additional record copies are pressed.

Consequently, vinyl’s manufacturing woes began even before the pandemic’s onset, and continued supply-chain difficulties appear to be exacerbating these existing challenges.

Nike, for instance, has seen cargo vessels’ journey from Asia to North America increase from about 40 days to roughly 80 days “as a result of container shortages, port congestion, rail congestion, and labor shortages,” according to Yahoo Finance. The point is proving significant for vinyl given the above-highlighted limited supply of lacquer discs as well as the format’s decidedly global manufacturing process. (It also bears mentioning that stateside manufacturing solutions have emerged, and other such options seem likely to debut moving forward.)

Plus, the price of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – which is used in vinyl, credit cards, pipes, certain medical devices, and more – “has rocketed 70%” amid the pandemic, per the Associated Press.

Addressing the many obstacles that the energy and chemical sectors (besides different spheres yet) have faced since 2020’s start, Jeremy Pafford, Independent Commodity Intelligence Services’ head of North America, market development, indicated: “There isn’t one thing wrong. It’s kind of whack-a-mole – something goes wrong, it gets sorted out, then something else happens. And it’s been that way since the pandemic began.”

As noted, the vinyl shortage is being compounded by unprecedented demand for records. Vinyl revenue nearly doubled in the U.S. during the first half of 2021, according to the RIAA – with 2020 having delivered a 23.5 percent year-over-year revenue hike for the global vinyl industry, per the IFPI. As a result, 2021 appears poised to keep alive the more than decade-long trend of growth for vinyl.

In the most recent testament to the extent of the vinyl shortage, Universal Music announced all manner of 30th anniversary editions of Nirvana’s Nevermind, which released on September 24th, 1991. However, the most expensive of these anniversary editions, which includes “8 180-gram LPs,” isn’t expected to ship until late May of 2022 – nearly eight months from now.

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