When music aficionado Ton Vermeulen bought a pressing plant for vinyl records in Haarlem outside Amsterdam in the late 90s, neither he nor anyone else believed he was investing in tomorrow’s technology. The seller, Sony Music Entertainment, had watched sales gradually decline since the 80s and then nearly disappear as compact discs (CDs) took over.
But today, the proverbial wheel has turned – or should we say the turntables are turning again – and the previously low-valued machines are working at full capacity. Vermeulen’s company – Record Industry – has laid on an extra shift to meet demand and between 2013 and 2014 alone, global sales of vinyl records rose from 6.1 to 9.2 million.
What does this have to do with paper? Well, it’s good news for paper producers because every vinyl record needs a sleeve and label, doesn’t it?
Vermeulen partnered with Wil Pfeiffer of StyleMathôt, a printer based in the same industrial area, to create a one-stop shop for vinyl record production. Pfeiffer’s printing presses dedicate 70% of their capacity to covers, sleeves and labels. Pfeiffer noted that they now use Iggesund’s Invercote stock for the record covers, which are a key part of the LP experience.
Vinyl-obsessed producer and sound engineer Tom Elmhirst, who has mixed Adele’s Hello and the late David Bowie’s haunting goodbye, Blackstar, and refined Grammy Award-winning records by Amy Winehouse (Back to Black) and Beck (Morning Phase), says that there’s a sense of occasion when you drop the needle and it clicks into the groove. “The crackle, the hiss, even the smell – it’s a tactile experience.”
Elmhirst adds that vinyl is a magical experience that the CD could never replicate. (And don’t even ask him about MP3. “That’s just a poor cousin.”)
Paper, as we know, elicits a similar response. It’s tactile and sensory. There is an unequivocal physicality of holding a book and turning its pages. There is something ‘magical’ and ritualistic about paper-based reading – even perusing the newspaper (news content notwithstanding) with your morning coffee.
And it’s not just a generational thing. Not only have I read that 15-year-olds are adding vinyl records to their music collections, but children prefer print, by as much as 70%, over e-books. So said Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah and David Kleeman, senior vice-president for global trends, at research consultancy Dubit, who delivered similar commentary at the recent Digital Book World conference.
Amazon’s launch of its brick-and-mortar store in November in Seattle also sparked the conversation around printed prose verses e-books. In a New York Times article by Alexandra Alter and Nick Wingfield, Alter says that people still like browsing for books in stores. They like the serendipity of it.
Independent bookstores are said to be thriving better these days due to the stabilisation of print books and a sales decline in e-books. Alter shares that, according to publishing experts, physical stores are still the number one way of driving the ‘discovery of books’.
Talking about discoveries, adults the world over are finding a new way to ‘switch off’. With the adult colouring-in craze, Fabel Castell, one of the world’s largest wood pencil manufacturers, has had lay on additional shifts to cope with the demand. Illustrator Johanna Basford, renowned for her elaborate line art in adult colouring-in books, told the UK’s Daily Telegraph that people are fed up with digital. “There is something nice about picking up a pencil and a pen…there is a childhood nostalgia element to it.”
There are also encouraging statistics on the local front with printing and writing grades showing an increase in demand in 2015. This is according to preliminary figures from the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa.
As always, the industry the world over is always discovering something new about paper, fibre and cellulose. There are articles in this vane scattered throughout this issue.
There may be quarters of society that believe that paper is obsolete. But they could not be further from the truth. It’s up to us, in our various spaces, to bring paper and all its manifestations to the fore. Just like the revival of vinyl, so too will there be a revival of paper. The proof is already out there.
Iggesund Paperboard press release – Obsolete technology becomes an industry of the future, 10 March 2016
Sarah Jane Griffiths. 2015. UK’s first official vinyl chart launched as sales rise. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-32251994. [Accessed 12 April 2016].
Alexandra Alter and Nick Wingfield. 2016. A Trip Through Amazon’s First Physical Store. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/12/business/media/a-virtual-trip-through-amazons-physical-store.html?_r=1. [Accessed 11 April 2016].
Porter Anderson. 2016. Nuts, Bolts and ‘The Persistence of Print’ at Digital Book World. [ONLINE] Available at: http://publishingperspectives.com/2016/03/dbw-launch-kids-print-loyalty-in-childrens-books/#.VwyggTaVSOp. [Accessed 12 April 2016].
TAKE NOTE. NOTA BENE. WATCH THIS SPACE.
With 31 March being submission for our September conference abstracts, the TAPPSA office has received a number of good topics for consideration. Conference programme will be available on our website from early May. www.tappsa.co.za