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Once the upswing had its initial bounce, other factors kept it moving. Most important of these was the popularity of the slot machine or "juke box" which retailed melody in small barrooms, lunch-counters and dance joints at 5¢ a shot. With an estimated consumption rate of more than 30,000,000 discs annually, the 300,000 juke boxes in the U. S. are today the record industry's largest customer. Another boost, accounting for perhaps
25% of record sales in today's popular field, came from the argumentative aficionados of swing, whose number mushroomed with the nation-wide vogue for hot jazz in 1935.
Today the juke boxes, the individual buyers of popular discs, and the swing fans together account for 88%-to-90% of all record sales. But, dollar for dollar, they contribute only 70% of the money spent on records in the U. S. The remaining 30% is spent by the collectors of classical records. The classic-collectors have grown slowly and steadily ever since high-fidelity recording began to catch the finer points of symphonic scoring. The industry today regards them as its most stable market. Most important distributor to this market is Manhattan's 11-year-old Gramophone Shop, which deals almost exclusively in classical discs, has 50,000 active buyers, and claims to be the largest record retailer in the U. S.
Three companies manufacture the bulk of today's records. Of these, Victor still holds first place with an annual output of 13,000,000 discs. The youthful Decca company, which expects to jump its annual production this year from 12,000,000 to
19,000,000 discs, stands second. Third, but just beginning to nudge Decca for second place, is the newly reorganized Columbia (now a subsidiary of Columbia Broadcasting System) which hopes to jump its output from last year's 7,000,000 discs to 13,000,000.
Meanwhile the technique of recording continues to improve. Fussy cantata-collectors are demanding still less surface noise, solutions to their record & needle problems, still higher fidelity of reproduction. The phonograph, originally "perfected" in 1882 by Alexander Graham Bell, is still an imperfect instrument.