Sunday, August 14, 2022

The right album

When was the last time a Toledo native made national headlines, or graced the pages of Rolling Stone?  Recently, a California entrepreneur made news with his “Netflix of vinyl” subscription service. In the process, he name-dropped Toledo’s long-shuttered Camelot Music, declaring it was instrumental in inspiring his life-long interest in retail record sales.

It’s called VNYL, and that’s not a typo. For those that recall BMG Music Club, a CD subscription club popular in the 1990s, VNYL is similar, but strictly for vinyl collectors. The service is like Birchbox; curated packages are sent to your doorstep on a monthly basis. Members are only charged extra if they keep the records instead of returning them in pre-paid shipping boxes. With vinyl sales up 51.8 percent since 2013, VNYL assesses the trend while thinking differently about how we categorize our record collection.

A better experience

“People are wanting a way of listening to music that doesn’t feel like mass production,” founder Nick Alt said. “This seemed like the most timely thing to do as a test. I didn’t set it up as a business . . . I’d have been satisfied if 100 people said ‘yes, please send me some vinyl.’”

For Alt, the origin for VNYL’s concept is Camelot Music in the Southwyck Mall, where he worked as a retail clerk in the ‘90s before graduating from St. John’s Jesuit High School. He moved to California for college and never returned. Alt formerly worked for Vimeo, a video-sharing website. He said he’s had the idea for a subscription service for awhile, but the idea to make it vinyl-based came late in the staging.

He thinks that iTunes and streaming services are lacking and make for an incomplete music experience,  characterizing their oft-vague genre categories as “a business person with very little creativity in their bones, who came up with a format that everybody just accepted.” It was because of these philosophical hangups with the music business that Alt arrived at his platform for VNYL. Genres on VNYL are called #Vibes, and titled in SEO-trackable style like #rainyday, #danceparty and #betweenthesheets.

Taking requests

Alt employs a small staff at VNYL, charged with the task of satisfying 777 subscribers with 10,000 requests for invites to the service. When we talked, Alt admitted his warehouse did not have that many pre-paid shipping boxes.

“While I would love to have all these people [as] subscribers, I also want to make sure we nail it for the people who got in early,” he said. “I want them to be super excited about what they get in the mail, and be like ‘wow, this is a whole different thing.’”

VNYL is still fielding invites. As for concerns of whether the vinyl sales surge is merely a trend, Alt is not naive to the possibility.

“Is this a five-year business? A ten-year business? I have no idea. I just want the product to be awesome,” Alt said. “Hopefully, at the end of the day we’ve created something that didn’t exist before in the marketplace, needs to exist, and creates new listeners for people to experience music in a way that they want to.”

Get more details on VNYL and request an invite to the service at vnyl.org

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