Is Analogue The New Digital?

Just when you thought it was safe to burn your LPs (if you hadn’t already done so in the early 1990s), give up on bricks and mortar bookshops and abandon print magazines once and for all, Tesco announces it will be selling vinyl records, Amazon launches a real bookshop (with real people and real bookshelves) and Air BnB and Uber – digital natives par excellence – launch print magazines.

What is going on?

At the heart of all this weird, seemingly retro activity is that pesky thing called a ‘consumer’.

In a multi-channel digital world, people – consumers – still buy physical products, they go to bookshops (even if they secretly browse Amazon to find out how much cheaper they can buy the book online) and like the analogue ‘realness’ of the way vinyl sounds.

They may not be in the majority but they are growing, are often influential, and they need to be serviced by businesses smart enough to realise that there is money to be made.

When the Guardian ran its story about Tesco selling vinyl for the first time in its history, it declared: “The vinyl album market was worth nearly £26m in 2014 – soaring from little more than £3m in 2009 – as middle-aged music fans rebuilt lost and scratched collections, joining hipsters and other younger fans buying a growing number of special releases by bands like One Direction.”

And if that doesn’t convince you that something afoot then consider this: New figures posted by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have revealed that vinyl sales in the United States in the first half of 2015 contributed more to the music industry than Spotify Free, YouTube and Vevo combined.

Meanwhile Amazon’s foray into the real world of actual bookshops came as something of a shock, given that it has probably single-handedly been responsible for the destruction of umpteen independent bookshops around the world.

Talking to the Financial Times, Jennifer Cast, vice-president of Amazon Books, said: “We’ve applied 20 years of online bookselling experience to build a store [in Seattle’s University Village] that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping.” She added that books to be sold in the store would be selected based on online data including customer ratings, pre-orders and sales.”

Douglas McCabe, an analyst at Enders Analysis, added: “It’s an experiment. It’s also a great PR exercise. The really interesting question is — do they start taking it seriously? Does one pop up in New York or London?”

We shall see.

For Digital Natives Uber and AirBnB, it’s a similar story.

Uber’s decision to launch a quarterly print magazine in the US for its 150,000 drivers was spurred by its desire to “better connect with its drivers”.

Uber then went one step further into the print world, launching in New York City a new in-car magazine, called Arriving Now, available in seat-back pockets. A familiar scenario for every airline traveller.

Air BnB, meanwhile, launched Pineapple magazine, which is full of stories for its hosts and the home-rental community. Interestingly Pineapple seemed to have stalled at the end of 2015 not because the principal was wrong, more because Air BnB discovered that quality print publishing was more expensive than expected. But the rationale and desire remain intact and they expect to resurrect the project once it has been made more cost effective.

If there’s a consumer need or desire, or commercial imperative, then savvy brands must cater to that demand via whatever channel is most effective. And if that means selling LPs, building bookshops or returning to print – as part of a multi-channel strategy – then in the immortal words of the Nike slogan: just do it.