Analogplanet Visits Stoughton Press

Stoughton Press located in California's City of Industry, recently installed a $2.8 million dollar state-of-the-art Heidelberg printing press in order to keep up with the demand for the "vinyl fad".

Last December while in the area for the L.A. and Orange County Audiophile Society annual gala where I roasted Chad Kassem, we visited one of the world's leading record jacket manufacturers (if not the leading manufacturer) to see how record jackets are manufactured in the 21st century.

The vast majority (more than 90%) of the company's business is printing and fabricating record jackets. This new press will ease the load on the company's original Heidelberg press, which has been operating overtime.

What we saw at the plant confirmed what we long suspected and which last year's number of records actually pressed also confirmed: the actual number of records sold last year and this year is absurdly greater than the numbers reported by Soundscan/Nielsen. For instance: S/N reports about 70,000 copies sold of Jack White's Lazaretto album, yet Stoughton printed 170,000 jackets.

Why? Because that's the total number ordered by White's label, probably incrementally. Does anyone think White ordered 170,000 jackets because he likes to waste money on jackets and storage? So on this one record S/N has grossly underreported sales. As you'll see, upon entering the press room we came upon stacks of Fleetwood Mac Rumours jackets—around 11,000 of them—this order coming years after the record's 180g reissue on both 33 1/3 and 45rpm. This success just kills the naysayers. They are in denial.

Giving us the tour is Jack Stoughton, Jr. son of the company's founder. As you'll see, Stoughton Junior learned well from his father and his knowledge of and enthusiasm for this process is impressive.

Also on board (among others) is music fanatic Rob Maushund (the longer grey bearded gentleman), who came to Stoughton for a temp job but stayed on (and on and on), and Acoustic Sounds' Chad Kassem. The less Z.Z. Top-ified bearded guy with the glasses is QRP plating master Gary Salstrom.

Unfortunately we were unable to show you some elements of jacket production because some of what Stoughton does to produce its patented "Tip-on" jackets is proprietary and the company doesn't want it documented.

Of course the "Tip-on" paper on cardboard jackets are the most expensive and coveted both because they look and feel best and return jacket making to the great early days and because they are time and labor intensive to manufacture.

As you'll see in the video it takes a great deal longer to make "Tip-on" jackets than the automated process used to manufacturer direct-printed jackets. It would not be giving up a trade secret to tell you that if you examine a "Tip-on" jacket in your collection you'll note that the back panel is glued directly to the back cardboard panel, over the album's front paper, which is folded and glued to the back. Skilled, experienced workers affix those back panels "free form" by hand!

Enjoy the tour:

Martin's picture

I've also been suspecting that the reported sales are massively understating the reality.
Looking at jackets produced is a funky way of estimating real sales. Very realistic, you print a jacket, gotta have a rekkerd ta go in.
Like using electricity generation per annum growth increase to measure economic growth in funky countries with manipulated or non-existent GDP statistics.
Fascinating, the principles are always the same.

Martin's picture

Industry published numbers are a crock of shit.

If reality doesn't fit the facts, make up what you want your reality to be.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Thanks for sharing. One could never guess how much work and money it takes to make a quality record jacket.

Michael Fremer's picture
Precisely! I was amazed not only by how much work but how reasonable the cost per jacket is considering the amount of work...but that's not for public consumption....and this is only AFTER procuring the artwork or using a clean original cover to produce a good scan (only second best but many labels haven't archived the artwork unfortunately...
isaacrivera's picture

And of course new record orders are only part of the equation in the resurgence of the "hobby". There are millions of records in families' private collections and there is a thriving used record market. I for instance, probably bough 1 new record per week last year, but 2 or three used ones per new record. Not all vinyl music is currently in print.

Martin's picture

Yeah, I think eBay at any given time has about three and a half million records up for sale. Discogs the last time I looked had around twelve or thirteen million, I don't remember how many GEMMS had, but it was a few million I think...

Tullman's picture

I really enjoyed the video. Thanks for posting this Mike.

macster's picture

Thanks Mikey for this video it was very informative.


my new username's picture

Got a new appreciation for what goes into a quality record jacket.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Love the behind-the-scenes vids! It's fascinating to see the combination of new (computer-based), old (vinyl) and really old (printing based on ancient principles).

Steve Arnold's picture

Thanks for sharing! I don't know if Music Matters started it first with the tip-on jackets for their Blue Note reissues, or Analogue Productions, or what, but I'm just happy that more labels are acknowledging that a complete package (quality vinyl plus a quality jacket) is what the die-hard fans want, and are happy to pay for.

Perhaps every reissue record label doesn't have the budget, means, or desire to go the extent that folks like Music Matters and AP have, in regards to offering the "ultimate" in jackets, but let's hope more will soon jump on the bandwagon, and again, realize that this is what people really want.

Bev's picture

Hello Michael,
Rather than speculate about record production or the accuracy of S/N, is there a reason you don't simply contact a company such as White to get accurate counts?