Vinyl production worldwide is currently operating way above its capacity. Expensive materials, expert knowledge and antiquated machinery and techniques have led to supply shortages and quality problems worldwide.
In contrast to the CD, production of which is completely integrated and automated with machines available on the open market, vinyl’s manufacturing chain is divided into many small parts. It’s a complicated process that requires a lot of work by hand, both in the actual pressing plant and in the other steps of production.
Many independent vinyl pressing plants closed in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to lack of orders. The major labels, practically all of which owned their own presses, wantonly scrapped the machines in order to help the CD triumph.
The introduction of the CD at the beginning of the 1980s was a self-made economic miracle. The development of the new format was supposed to pay for itself as soon as possible, so the new discs were sold at highly inflated prices in the early years. Thanks to digital technology, record companies could sell their entire back catalog another time and with allegedly better sound, no scratches, longer playing times and in a smaller, more practical format. There was a gold rush at Sony (who co-developed the technology) and the other major labels. Now with the reemergence of vinyl, it seems that the labels are trying to sell their back catalog yet again.
Record manufacturers have enjoyed a boom in the vinyl business in the last few decades. But interestingly, in this same period of time, the first pressing of most titles has been reduced by nearly half. That means more work for the press; the machines have to be reconfigured more often, which takes a lot of time. But equally important, critical infrastructure investments have been ignored. This is the main reason that it takes up to four months to produce a vinyl record. Even when working three shifts a day and through weekends, the production facilities can’t complete pressings in a timely manner.
This is an intriguing format-war story that could find vinyl a victim of its own success.