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Jack White Implores Major Labels to Build Vinyl Pressing Plants Amid Backlog

"The issue is, simply, we have ALL created an environment where the unprecedented demand for vinyl records cannot keep up with the rudimentary supply of them."

Jack White is calling on the major labels — Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group — to build their own vinyl pressing plants amid explosive growth in the format that has led to industry-wide backlogs.

White made the request via an open letter and accompanying video released on Monday (March 14). “With industry-wide turnaround times for vinyl currently leaning towards the length of a human pregnancy, it’s obvious, in a world so contingent on being of-the-moment and timed just right (a single, an album, a tour etc.), these timelines are the killers of momentum, soul, artistic expression, and far too often, livelihoods,” White wrote in the letter.

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White, who owns the Detroit-based Third Man Pressing plant — opened in 2017 — with his independent label Third Man Records, added that over the past year, he’s “doubled down and invested in even more record presses, more employees to run them, and more shifts to try and accommodate the insane growing demand for vinyl product.” Nonetheless, he said, the plant has struggled to meet demand.

“While the entirety of vinyl investment and framework in the past decade has originated from independent companies and investors, the bigger problems we now see require major solutions,” White continued. “In this spirit, I turn to our collegial big brothers in the music world, Sony, Universal, and Warner, and politely implore them to help alleviate this unfortunate backlog and start dedicating resources to build pressing plants themselves.”

Last year, vinyl sales comprised 38.3% of all album sales in the U.S., according to MRC Data, representing a total of 41.72 million units. That’s a record for vinyl’s share of the album sales market in the U.S. in the MRC Data era and an increase of 51.4% over 2020, when 27.55 million vinyl LPs were sold. Though recent inflation and supply-chain issues have sent the cost of vinyl albums soaring – from an average retail of $26.06 in the first half of 2019 to $27.49 in the first half of 2021 – sales are nonetheless on track to increase again in 2022.

As demand skyrockets — partly due to big-box retailers like Walmart and Target increasingly leaning into the vinyl market, not to mention a surge in demand for limited-edition color vinyl pressings of albums — it’s been estimated that there are only around 100 vinyl pressing plants worldwide, with only a handful capable of producing records at a large scale. The boom has led to unprecedented wait times: In periods of low demand, vinyl albums typically take anywhere from two to three months to produce and reach stores, but today, orders can take up to a year to fulfill.

According to a recent analysis by Billboard, if the industry was able to meet demand, vinyl album sales would surpass their all-time U.S. peak of 334 million LPs in 1978, according to the RIAA, with sales potentially topping $2 billion per year.

“To be clear, the issue is not big labels versus small labels, it’s not independent versus mainstream, it’s not even punk versus pop,” added White. “The issue is, simply, we have ALL created an environment where the unprecedented demand for vinyl records cannot keep up with the rudimentary supply of them.”

White further noted that “it’s easier to purchase a vinyl press now than it has been in four decades” owing to several recently founded manual and automated vinyl press manufacturers globally. “And with more ancillary innovators popping up every day helping advance every facet of the industry, this isn’t a difficult decision to make,” he adds. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Representatives for Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group did not immediately respond to Billboard’s requests for comment.

You can read White’s full letter below.

At least once a week, without fail, someone will reach out asking me to help expedite their vinyl record manufacturing. It’s a natural thought… knowing that I own a pressing plant and have my own record label, “if anyone could help, it’s this guy!”

With industry-wide turnaround times for vinyl currently leaning towards the length of a human pregnancy, it’s obvious, in a world so contingent on being of-the-moment and timed just right (a single, an album, a tour etc.), these timelines are the killers of momentum, soul, artistic expression, and far too often, livelihoods.

I’ve done everything within my power to help. Third Man Records began a concentrated focus on vinyl in 2009 with hopes of exposing its wider potential to the farthest reaches of the music industry. In 2017 I furthered my commitment by opening Third Man Pressing… a plant which has always been open to anyone and everyone who walks in the door and wants to press a record, from bedroom hip hop artists to field recording documentarians. And in the last year, I’ve doubled down and invested in even more record presses, more employees to run them, and more shifts to try and accommodate the insane growing demand for vinyl product.

There are people who will say – isn’t this good for Third Man? More demand than you can handle? To which I say, even though Third Man benefits in the short term, in the long term it ultimately hurts everyone involved in the vinyl ecosystem given the bottlenecks and delays. Something needs to be done.

While the entirety of vinyl investment and framework in the past decade has originated from independent companies and investors, the bigger problems we now see require major solutions.

In this spirit, I turn to our collegial big brothers in the music world, Sony, Universal, and Warner, and politely implore them to help alleviate this unfortunate backlog and start dedicating resources to build pressing plants themselves.

To be clear, the issue is not big labels versus small labels, it’s not independent versus mainstream, it’s not even punk versus pop. The issue is, simply, we have ALL created an environment where the unprecedented demand for vinyl records cannot keep up with the rudimentary supply of them.

Across the globe, there are now a handful of NEW companies, building both automated and manual vinyl presses. It’s easier to purchase a vinyl press now than it has been in four decades. And with more ancillary innovators popping up every day helping advance every facet of the industry, this isn’t a difficult decision to make. It’s a no-brainer.

We’re all on the same team with the same goals. I truly believe that with a good faith investment in the infrastructure that got us here, we can continue on this upward trajectory and further inspire the worlds around us. Now is the time. Thank you.

jack white

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