Vinyl gets the final spin

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The Independent Online
THE LONG-PLAYING record, for decades an icon of popular culture, is now little more than an historical curiosity, according to a study of the music industry released today.

Cultural Trends, published by the Policy Studies Institute, confirms that the classic album cover and a national fondness for vinyl are characteristics of the 1970s and 1980s. Music in the 1990s and the new millennium is more likely to be bought on the Internet, or illegally downloaded.

Only 2.2 million LPs were sold in 1998, less than 1 per cent of all the music sold - a far cry from the glory days of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Roxy Music, when LP covers made more of an impact on the national consciousness than magazines. As recently as 1992, 6.7m LPs were sold.

The market for compact discs, meanwhile, has ballooned from 70.5 million albums in 1992 to 175.7 million last year. But the biggest threat to the music business as we know it now comes from the Internet, which Cultural Trends reckons will account for 5 per cent of the world market within four years.

The success in America of Internet companies such as, CD Now and N2K is prompting traditional British high street stores to launch sales sites. HMV, Virgin and Tower Records are likely to be at the forefront.

But high street brands may be under threat completely. The Net is able to offer a far bigger selection of albums, including oldies who have been dropped from pop music play- lists on the radio. It also allows for the broadcast of live concerts, and gives individual artists the chance to break free of record company control.

David Bowie has established his own Internet service, while the artist formerly known as Prince sells products exclusively via the Net.

Such moves, the report says, mean the system of "professional slavery", which George Michael claimed existed in the industry in his celebrated legal case against Sony Music, could possibly be ended. It was this kind of thinking that prompted Alan McGee, the owner of Creation Records, to suggest last year that within 10 years record companies could be relics of a past age.

In the meantime, the music shop is losing out to supermarkets, which now account for more than 10 per cent of total album sales, compared with about 3 per cent 10 years ago. Multiple chains, such as WH Smith, are also taking business from smaller retailers.