April 4, 2013, 3:33 PM

Amazon drops the needle on another digital content lure

Vinyl meets MP3 music as part of an AutoRip extension.

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Detractors say they scratched easily, warped too often and could pollute fiery guitar riffs with cracks and pops. When digital music began its rise some two generations ago, they appeared headed down the dinosaur path. But vinyl albums never really died, and now Amazon.com Inc. aims to win some consumer loyalty from record owners.

That’s the long, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” way of saying the e-retailer’s AutoRip service now applies to vinyl. Consumers who have bought vinyl records from Amazon as far back as 1998 will receive from the e-retailer free digital copies of that music. Amazon then stores those MP3 files in consumers’ Cloud Player libraries. Consumers use Cloud Player to listen to music stored in their Amazon-hosted Cloud Drive accounts, just as many shoppers store music in Apple Inc.’s iTunes or Google Play from Google Inc.

Extending AutoRip to vinyl follows the debut of the service early this year for CDs. “AutoRip has been wildly popular with customers since it launched earlier this year,” says Steve Boom, vice president of digital music for Amazon, without giving details that would support the statement. “Many of our music customers are vinyl fans and it’s traditionally been very difficult to make digital versions of vinyl records.”

Many Baby Boomers and some of the older members of Generation X may best remember vinyl for the evocative art on album covers (or even the rolling of a certain leafy substance on those covers), not the quality of its sound or its portability. But while digital music keeps growing—global spending on the format increased 9.8% last year, according to one estimate—collectors and serious fans keep fond feelings for a technology born in the 19th century.

That’s reflected in sales trends for vinyl, sometimes considered sonically superior to compressed digital files, depending on the style of music, the quality of the speakers and the tastes of the listener. In the United States last year, sales of full-length vinyl albums increased 17.7% in 2012 compared with a year ago, to 4.6 million units, according to The Nielsen Co. and Billboard’s 2012 Music Industry Report. By comparison, digital album sales increased 14.1%, to 118 million units. CD album sales declined 13.5%, to 193 million units in 2012.

Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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