By Michael Kahn
PRAGUE (Reuters) - Housebound music lovers starved of live shows during the pandemic got their groove on with vinyl records instead, fuelling a buying boom that drove the world's biggest LP maker to its best-ever annual sales and profit.
GZ media, which presses records ranging from global superstar Lady Gaga to independent punk band Cock Sparrer saw sales jump 11% to 4 billion crowns ($187 million) and shipped 38 million LPs in 2020, said Chief Executive Michal Sterba.
"It was a record year," he told Reuters on a tour of the company's factory some 20 kms (12.4 miles) outside Prague where GZ media has pressed albums since 1951. He expects revenue to soar to 4.7 billion crowns in 2021.
GZ Media's banner year follows a vinyl revival over the past decade despite the popularity and instant access of digital media and easy-to-use streaming sites such as Apple Inc's iTunes and Spotify.
The company also operates pressing plants in North America.
"A lot of people started to buy their own audio systems and started to buy vinyl records...probably because they stayed home and there were not as many other options such as concerts, pubs and bars," said Sterba as white-gloved workers transferred freshly-stamped LPs into a box to cool before packaging.
While GZ Media sales dipped at the start of the lockdown early last year, demand soared in the second half, he added.
"Right now vinyl records are moving from niche markets of music collectors, music lovers and audiophiles to...a wider consumer base representing a young generation who found their way to vinyl," Sterba said.
In the United States -- the world's biggest vinyl market -- 27.5 million LPs were sold in 2020, up 46% from 2019, according to German-based market and consumer data company Statista.
Music sales data firm MRC said 51 albums sold at least 50,000 copies in the United States – up from just 23 in 2019 with the year's top-selling LP Harry Styles’ 'Fine Line' selling 232,000 copies.
"Buying vinyl is like buying antiquities," said Petr Rakosnik, owner of a Prague music store. "Vinyl has an amazing sound."
GZ Media also produces CDs, DVDs and packaging but vinyl drives about 65% of the group's revenue, Sterba said at the factory employing 1,800 people.
A richer sound, cover art and the ability to cradle a vinyl record contribute to the growing emotional appeal for LPs, added local DJ Jiri Holubec.
"When I take a record by Charlie Parker from the fifties, I can see and feel his music physically stamped in there," he said.
($1 = 21.4120 Czech crowns)
(Additional reporting by Kristyna Jandova, Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)