Sep 17, 2021

Axios What's Next

Good Friday morning! Today, Erica Pandey is taking you through why vinyl records still have a place in the music industry. Plus, check out what Joann Muller’s driving this week.

  • Your assignment is to send us a photo you took that tells us something about What's Next. What is next? Share your pix and thoughts with us at whatsnext@axios.com.
  • Today's contest winner is Robin Ann Caltagirone, whose picture appears at the bottom.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,142 words ... 4.5 minutes.

1 big thing: The future of music is (still) vinyl

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Vinyl record sales are rising — and it's younger music enthusiasts who are driving the trend, Erica writes.

The big picture: Even though streaming services dominate music consumption, vinyl hasn't gone the way of CDs.

Illuminating stat: In 2020, U.S. vinyl sales topped CD sales for the first time since 1986, per the Recording Industry Association of America.

  • This year, sales growth keeps exploding. Vinyl sales are up 108% in the first six months of 2021, compared with the same period in 2020, CNBC reports.
  • This sales boom made record stores rare winners in the pandemic-era retail apocalypse — as many music lovers had more time to listen to albums at home and decided to expand their record collections.

The reason is simple, Billy Fields, the resident vinyl expert at Warner Music Group, told CNBC: "It's eternally cool."

The big picture: Streaming is still king, accounting for 80% of all music revenue in 2019. But vinyl isn't disappearing because it offers an experience that hitting play on your phone does not.

  • "I’m using streaming basically 24/7, but having records has been a way of making my favorite music tactile," says Gigi Lone, an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto. "You can't really collect something on Spotify. This is just owning something that is dear to you."
  • "There's definitely a hipness to it," says Chip Heuisler, who owns Tunes, a record store in Hoboken, New Jersey. "There is something about the tangible experience of taking the record out of its sleeve and putting it on the turntable. And, with older records, sometimes hearing a bit of that pop and crackle adds to the experience."

For many, vinyl records have become like prints and paintings — art to display in the home. "The album art, the aesthetics of the record itself, the grooves of the vinyl, is something that I’m attracted to," Lone says. "And I love seeing it when people have it up on their walls. It's part of the culture."

What to watch: The popularity of vinyl is causing ripples in the music industry, as the skyrocketing demand is roiling its supply chain.

  • Big box stores like Walmart, Amazon and Target are seeing dollar signs and stepping into vinyl sales. They now account for 13% of all sales, up from 4% in 2018, per Billboard. But that also means they're placing orders far larger than independent record stores — and the vinyl manufacturers are struggling to fill them.
  • As a result, consumers are dealing with delays on orders, and even the world's biggest artists are waiting months for their vinyls to hit the shelves.

Read the rest.

2. Ford's lightning-hot truck means more jobs

Ford's first F-150 Lightning pickup truck prototypes are rolling out of the factory in Dearborn, Michigan, for real-world testing. Photo: Ford Motor

The electric Ford F-150 Lightning pickup hasn't even gone on sale yet, but demand is so hot that the company is already expanding production, Joann Muller writes.

Driving the news: The first Lightning prototypes are leaving Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, factory for real-world testing, with the truck available to customers next spring.

  • But with 150,000 "pre-orders" in hand, Ford said Thursday it will invest an additional $250 million and add 450 more jobs to boost production at the EV assembly plant and two nearby component factories.
  • The moves will help increase production capacity to 80,000 trucks a year.

Why it matters: Many have questioned whether truck buyers would trade their gas-powered workhorse for an electric pickup that needs to be plugged in every day. Ford's decision to expand production capacity shows that the company is increasingly confident the answer is yes.

What they're saying: “We knew the F-150 Lightning was special, but the interest from the public has surpassed our highest expectations and changed the conversation around electric vehicles. So we are doubling down, adding jobs and investment to increase production,” said executive chairman Bill Ford.

Details: The new $250 million investment follows $700 million invested last year to prepare Ford's historic Rouge manufacturing plant for electric vehicle production.

What to watch: The F-150 Lightning, which starts at $40,000 and aims to provide up to 300 miles of driving range, goes on sale next spring.

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3. Hard times for hotels
Expand chart
Data: American Hotel & Lodging Association and Kalibri Labs; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Stayed in a hotel lately? Neither have I, writes Jennifer A. Kingson.

Revenue in the hotel sector is projected to be down $59 billion this year compared with 2019, per a report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and Kalibri Labs, a hotel data analytics company.

Why it matters: Business travel — which, for a shiny moment, looked like it might rebound, before COVID-19's Delta variant surge — is the bread-and-butter of the hotel business. Now it's "not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024," according to AHLA.

What they're saying: An estimated 67% of business travelers "are planning to take fewer trips, 52% are likely to cancel existing travel plans without rescheduling, and 60% are planning to postpone existing travel plans," according to a national survey by Morning Consult on behalf of AHLA.

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4. What Joann's driving

2022 Nissan Pathfinder. Photo: Nissan

The Nissan Pathfinder has received a welcome makeover for 2022, going from run-of-the-mill crossover to stylish and rugged contender among family-friendly SUVs, Joann writes.

The big picture: It's the latest in a string of attractive models from Nissan, which has been mounting a turnaround effort after abandoning a profit-sapping discount strategy to fuel growth.

What's new: The 2022 Pathfinder was redesigned from the ground up, except for the carry-over V6 engine, which is now paired with a new 9-speed transmission.

I drove the $41,490 Pathfinder SL version with standard front-wheel-drive. (All-wheel drive is optional.)

  • It came with a $2,900 premium package that added features like a panoramic roof, heated second-row captain chairs and a 13-speaker Bose audio system.

One cool feature: The hands-on, assisted-driving system (Nissan ProPILOT Assist) is linked to the car's navigation system, which means the Pathfinder knows when a curve or exit is coming up and will automatically slow down.

One annoying feature: The Pathfinder honked six times every time I exited the vehicle. It's Nissan's way of reminding drivers to check the back seat for kids or pets.

  • Hot-car deaths are avoidable tragedies, and a proposed law would require all cars to have a rear-seat-check reminder.
  • But safety advocates say technology that actually detects movement inside the vehicle is preferable.

Read the rest.

5. Reader photo of the day

Jeter, a dog with refined culinary tastes, at home in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Photo: Robin Ann Caltagirone

What's Next: Pandemic dining at home with your pet

Robin Ann Caltagirone of Indian Trail, North Carolina, writes: "Dogs love this idea. Mine dressed up for the occasion. … we had a work-from-home black tie luncheon prepared by moi. … Cats not so much — they prefer to eat alone…

"Jeter had organic chicken bits and rice with bone broth and Newman’s organic Beef Jerky for an appetizer.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen when I have to go back to the office. Something tells me our pets are going to need therapy."

Be on the lookout for photos that speak to What's Next in our lives. Send them to whatsnext@axios.com.

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