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So an employee at a big-box retail store was ordering a bunch of copies of the new R.E.M. disc – only he accidentally ordered the vinyl version. On a whim, some of the stores put them on the shelves – and they sold very well.

That chain is now one of many testing vinyl sales, sensing a possible comeback of the format to the mainstream. Audiophiles and music geeks in general never gave up their vinyl, telling anyone who would listen that analog simply sounds better than digital. But is the general public willing to get up every twenty minutes or so to flip the disc and put the needle on the record?

“It’s not just a nostalgia thing,” said Melinda Merrill, spokeswoman for Fred Meyer [the retail chain that made the accidental purchase]. “The response from customers has just been that they like it, they feel like it has a better sound.”

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, manufacturers’ shipments of LPs jumped more than 36 percent from 2006 to 2007 to more than 1.3 million. Shipments of CDs dropped more than 17 percent during the same period to 511 million, as they lost some ground to digital formats.

Now, you can’t read too much into that – those are impressive percentages, but we’re still talking about a difference between 1.3 million and 511 million. Plus, vinyl is extremely un-portable, and people love their iPods.

Even so … what do you think? Can vinyl re-win the hearts of the masses, or will it forever be just the true believers obsessing over their record collections?