A gramophone record, commonly known as a phonograph record (in American English), vinyl record (in reference to vinyl, the material most commonly used after about 1950), or colloquially, a record, is an analog sound storage medium consisting of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. The groove usually starts near the periphery and ends near the center of the disc (the opposite of the spiral of pits in the CD medium, which starts near the centre and works outwards). Phonograph records are generally described by their diameter ("12-inch", "10-inch", "7-inch", etc.), the rotational speed at which they are played ("33⅓ r.p.m.", "78", "45", etc.), their time capacity ("Long Playing"), their reproductive accuracy, or "fidelity", or the number of channels of audio provided ("Mono", "Stereo", "Quadraphonic", etc.).
Groove recordings, first designed in the final quarter of the 19th century, held a predominant position for nearly a century—withstanding competition from reel-to-reel tape, the 8-track cartridge, and the compact cassette. However, in 1988, the compact disc surpassed the gramophone record in popularity. Vinyl records experienced a sudden decline in popularity between 1988 and 1991, when the major label distributors restricted their return policies, which retailers had been relying on to maintain and swap out stocks of relatively unpopular titles. First the distributors began charging retailers more for new product if they returned unsold vinyl, and then they stopped providing any credit at all for returns. Retailers, fearing they would be stuck with anything they ordered, only ordered proven, popular titles that they knew would sell, and devoted more shelf space to CDs and cassettes. Record companies also deleted many vinyl titles from production and distribution, further undermining the availability of the format and leading to the closure of pressing plants. This rapid decline in the availability of records accelerated the format's decline in popularity, and is seen by some as a deliberate ploy to make consumers switch to CDs, which were more profitable for the record companies.
In spite of their flaws, such as the lack of portability, records still have enthusiastic supporters. Vinyl records continue to be manufactured and sold today, especially by independent rock bands and labels, although record sales are considered to be a niche market composed of audiophiles, collectors, and DJs. Old records and out of print recordings in particular are in much demand by collectors the world over. Many popular new albums are given releases on vinyl records and older albums are also given reissues as well, sometimes on audiophile grade vinyl with high quality sleeves.