The Vinyl Night: Nostalgia, Commercial Strategy, Both or Neither?
You may have heard about The Record Store Day and The Bookstore Day. But have you ever heard about The Vinyl Day?
In Buenos Aires we have all of the above. Actually, and since we Argentinians are very nocturnal people, we hold these at night. The Record Store Night takes place in November, and The Bookstore Night in February. They have been performed for quite a few years now — The Bookstores Night first took place in 2005, and The Record Stores Night in 2009. On these nights the most remarkable record and bookstores stay open till late, so people can not only shop but also engage in many cultural activities: conferences, live interviews, book signings, live shows, poem recitations, roundtable discussions, etc.
I have attended a few editions myself, and I have to tell you — they are a lot of fun. If you are one of those individuals that cannot stand crowds, I would recommend you avoid the Nights altogether. These celebrations bring thousands of people to the streets, not only because the activities are free but also because there is always something for everyone: the occasional reader, the music connoisseur, the young, the elderly.
But what about the vinyls.
The Vinyl Night is a yearly mini event that takes place every August in Buenos Aires. Its fourth edition ended just a couple hours ago. Yours truly could not attend for work related reasons, but would still like to talk about this peculiar celebration.
Where does the Vinyl Night take place?
The Ateneo Grand Splendid is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the whole world. Which is not an overstatement. Just take a look at these details I captured the last time I went there.
The Ateneo Grand Splendid used to be a theater slash cinema, but now it is a bookstore slash record store. The building was designed by Austrian entrepreneur Mordechai David Glücksman in 1917. The work was through in 1919, and the big opening happened that very year. Back in the 1920s, none other than Carlos Gardel would record his albums in a studio Glücksman had built above the theater. This room survived the remodeling, but it is out of bounds to the general public.
In 2000 two companies, Yenny and El Ateneo, joined forces and bought the then abandoned theater. They decided to keep its original splendor, and only removed the seating so they could place bookshelves instead. Even though they did a spectacular work, I still think that the placing of ascending escalators was a mistake. They look so ugly and out of place, especially among such beautiful architecture! There, I said it.
The place is equipped with luxurious couches where you can lay back and enjoy the book of your choice. A café was placed in the stage, right next to the gorgeous red curtain. Classical music is continuously played in the background. There is even a piano maestro that plays every evening for those enjoying a cup of coffee in the stage bar.
Oh, yes. And they also sell records.
What is the Vinyl Night exactly about?
Mmm, I am afraid you will be disappointed. Every Vinyl Night a new catalogue of records in the vinyl format is released. And that is pretty much it.
Up to this day, the catalogue of vinyls introduced during the Vinyl Nights has always been made up of national artists. There are three kinds of records put on sale every edition: a) those that had never been available in vinyl before and now are; b) those that had, but were sold out; and c) new records that are released in vinyl as well as in CD.
99% of the vinyls released every year belong to categories a and b. The most iconic, the must-haves, the basics, the pillars of Argentinian music. I suspect that c will gain importance in future editions. This year 15 new vinyls were added to the catalogue.
In all earnestness.
Both the Record Store and the Bookstore Nights were not created just to promote the arts. It was an attempt (and a very successful one indeed) to save local stores from going out of business. Just like anywhere else, digital music and the e-book were threatening record and bookstores with bankruptcy. But ultimately these celebrations raise that much interest because they are more than commercial events. People may buy a book or too, but there is so much more to it than just acquiring an object.
However, the Vinyl Night is just that, it is about buying records. Not only is it a commercial happening, but also a very restricted one. Even though vinyls get more popular by the hour, the amount of people who actually buy vinyls is still non significant. The catalogue is so limited it seems aimed just at collectors. The average price is 40 (forty!) dollars.
The matter seems even clearer when you consider who hosts every event. The municipal government’s Secretary of Culture is in charge of the Record and the Bookstore Day, whereas the Vinyl Night is held by Yenny/El Ateneo. Yes, the very owners of the venue.
It is always good to celebrate music.
You cannot foresee the future, but you can suspect it. And I suspect that vinyls will overcome again. Events such as the Vinyl Night do promote the arts, but in a very limited way. Instead of calling out for people already willing to own more vinyls, its main purpose should be to reach those that have never held a vinyl record in their hands before.
To claim that the Vinyl Night is ‘a commercial event’ might not be accurate either. How profitable selling a 15-record catalogue to a few music nerds can be? Not much I guess.
The intention is right, the idea is good — it is just the means that should be reconsidered. Expand the catalogue, lower the prices, offer related activities on the side. To me, those are the keys to a full vinyl comeback. Trust me, it will happen. In due time it will happen.