With 2019 vinyl sales on track to outsell CDs for the first time since 1986, we are increasingly living in a world where old-school, slow and niche forms of media are on the rise. People are starting to favour physical forms of media over the digital world in part as a result of content overload.
We’ve already witnessed an upwards trend in digital minimalism, a philosophy which involves focusing your attention on carefully selected activities and living a more intentional, digital life. But growth around Slow Media has shifted this focus from online to offline forms of media consumption, in particular vinyl and independent print magazines.
Slow Media is often compared to the slow food movement, which advocates for the main focus of the food to not be on convenience and fast consumption, but rather on carefully selected ingredients, prepared mindfully and consumed with care.
Producers of physical media pride themselves on creating objects of a high quality – and maintaining that level of quality throughout every stage of production. They strive to stand-out from their mass-produced, short-lived competition by putting great content at the heart of all they do. They target mindful and active audiences rather than passive consumers whose focus will switch with every online pop-up and notification.
Of course, there’s still a demand, and inherent need, for fast, on-demand, mass-produced media to fulfil societies’ growing need to have endless amounts of entertainment at their fingertips, whenever and wherever they want it. But, over the last few years, vinyl sales have made a comeback. More and more consumers are opting for a finite collection of physical records, over a £9.99 monthly Spotify subscription.
The RIAA’s 2019 mid-year report revealed that, over the first half of 2019, vinyl records earned $224 million in sales (a 12.9% growth compared to the second half of 2018). CD sales had not seen a significant change compared to the previous year, and earned $247.9 million over the same period. If these trends continue, vinyl is on-track to out-sell compact discs by the end of the year.
Banquet Records’ Jon Tolley attributes the growth of vinyl sales to a “rejection of the part of modern society where everything is immediate and nothing means anything.”
Another form of slow media that has seen a resurgence in recent years are independent magazines. Focusing on anything from travel to coffee, independent magazines are bringing back ‘cover to cover’ culture.
The internet put print media at risk and yet now, it’s the very thing helping it to get back on its feet. Publishers can take advantage of cheap and easy-to-use design and publishing software, as well as social media in order to connect with the right audiences. Creating and marketing your own print publication no longer requires a big budget or a large creative team.
Slowly this independent industry is finding solid ground amongst the noise of the digital world. Stack, an independent magazine subscription service, reported a 78% revenue increase in 2018, demonstrating once again how digital is helping to bring print to a much wider audience.
Although Slow Media has seen significant growth over the past decade, it’s still very much an industry struggling to compete in the modern era, and we should not overestimate its success. Slow forms of media ask more from their consumers – they demand more time and more attention, which are often hard to find in the modern, fast-paced digital world.
Vinyl sales are high, at least compared to previous years, but they still only make up 4% of the music industry’s total revenue in the first half of 2019. To put that in context, paid streaming subscriptions contributed to 62% of the industry’s revenue.
So for now, the world of on-demand short shelf-life content is winning over slower, more niche forms of media. However, the two forms can happily coexist and find their own place within the content landscape. Small-scale production and physical distribution of goods do limit audience size, but Slow Media is still having its impact. Slow and niche forms of media are not trying to overtake the mainstream, it’s an industry driven by passionate people trying to slow down a little.