A New Spin: Media Privacy and Online Vinyl Shopping
Updated: Apr 10
This was written for CAS 839: Media Analytics Communications in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.
The needle hits the record with a fuzzy crackle. The player spins. The music starts.
One can create a unique musical experience by pairing old technology with modern Bluetooth speaker. Vinyl enthusiasts have turned the beat around, fueled by nostalgia and the tactile feel and process of placing a record on a turntable (Mai, 2018; John, 2020). In fact, vinyl sales surpassed CD sales for the first year in a generation during 2020 (John, 2020). I received a record player for Christmas and have been building a vinyl collection. My focus for this assignment is online vinyl stores. I attached screenshots of each homepage.
Only one site, Amoeba Music, featured standard banner/display ads (through an Ads by Google carousel). Here, I saw display ads for Ford (we own a Ford Explorer and Lincoln Corsair), State Farm (my SO works in commercial insurance), and Triscuits (I frequently google healthy food/vegetarian recipes). Amazon, as part of their standard recommended items algorithm, suggested vinyl as well as other items related to recent purchases.
Three sites—Pop Market, Amoeba, and The Sound of Vinyl—were featured on the first page of a Google search for “online vinyl store.” The Sound of Vinyl was the top hit/feature ad. Interestingly, The Sound of Vinyl also incorporated influencer marketing with a video featuring Black Flag/Rollins Band front man Henry Rollins in a YouTube video titled “The Life of a Vinyl Record | In Partnership with The Sound of Vinyl.”
Most of the sites only advertised music for sale on the site. I was surprised at the lack of traditional advertising. Most featured banner ads that marketed their longevity—a “since <insert year>” positioning—to create immediate authenticity and confidence while fostering a community. All of the sites advertised new releases, preorders, services (buy and sell used vinyl). Many included a staff picks section and added value (tips and tricks on how to care for vinyl). Also, most featured home page sliders featuring albums and services.
But when falling down the vinyl rabbit hole, I don’t perceive data as nefarious. I’ve interacted with other vinyl fans (old school and newbies), and these consumers seems hungry for more availability, helpful value ads, and a sense of community. The collector psychology finds viny collectors constantly wanting more. There is a sense of satisfaction in a record collection—in hearing a favorite record or song on vinyl—but also a sense of pride in a boast-worthy collection. Signing up for a newsletter for an indie record store seems proactive because I am helping a local economy, supporting small business, and buying something I truly want.
Vinyl shopping is a rare consumer experience where I don’t mind the email marketing, item suggestions based on previous purchases, or display ads.
Oddly, I feel like the marketing and communications help to educate me as a consumer. Ads often feature blog content or articles that discuss classic vinyl, monster-selling albums, and singer/band profiles. As a music lover, I say let the marketing play! Small businesses need data to remain competitive.
On one hand, big data centers around money and power (King & Richards, 2014). When shopping for vinyl on mainstream sites (Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or even Walmart which has a surprisingly large vinyl market), the standard data and privacy issues persist. These are large corporations that operate nationally or internationally. They have the operational capacity to store large troves of data—and the mammoth marketing teams to leverage information to target and to segment. Mainstream companies benefit from data-as-a-commodity as much a marketing tool. But consumers understand that small businesses must earn profits—and they want their preferred brands to thrive and continue to offer products and services (Ofori-Boateng, 2020).
In the end, there will always be those trying to serve a community through passion and bad actors trying to profit off of others’ privacy. Perhaps Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, sums it up best: unethical people will do bad things when it’s easy (as cited in Rosenberg & Frenkel, 2018). There seems to exist a goodwill and strong sense of community and shared identity when it comes to online vinyl shopping—a different spin on privacy and online behavior.
Ofori-Boateng, C. (2020, June 8). Your big data responsibility: The rise in data ethics. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/06/08/your-big-data-responsibility-the-rise-in-data-ethics/?sh=5cc72ab072f7
John, S. (2020, October 20). Why vinyl records are making a comeback in 2021. The Manual. https://www.themanual.com/culture/why-vinyl-is-coming-back/
King, J. H., & Richards, N.M. (2014, March 28). What’s up with big data ethics? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/oreillymedia/2014/03/28/whats-up-with-big-data-ethics/?sh=277cdc803591
Mai, B. (2018, October 31). #MusicBizToB2B—Vinyl records: Why physical products matter to marketers. Red Branch Media. https://redbranchmedia.com/blog/vinyl-records-why-physical-products-matter/
Rosenberg, M., & Frenkel, S. (2018, March 18). Facebook’s role in data misuse sets off storms on two continents. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/18/us/cambridge-analytica-facebook-privacy-data.html
Thorson, E. (2017, December 3). Basic Ethics Theories. [Video]. Retrieved from the Michigan State University, Media Analytics Com. Desire 2 Learn: https://mediaspace.msu.edu/media/Lesson13a/1_us8gpp7h