It certainly seems that vinyl records are back, as the “vinyl revival” has been gaining steam for years now. People, young and old, continue to buy 12” vinyl records with glee despite living in a digital age. So let’s dig deeper into the vinyl sales numbers to see just how strong this vinyl record comeback really is, and where the hobby might be headed in the future.
Vinyl Records Are Back, But Streaming is King
According to the Recording Industry Association of America’s annual revenue report for 2022, streaming services like Pandora, Amazon Music, and web-based (and satellite radio stations) generated 84% of recorded music revenue in 2022.
That’s not a surprising statistic when you consider just how convenient and versatile these services are. As you’ll see, while the vinyl revival is quite strong, streaming music is still the biggest driver of growth and revenue for the music industry.
Vinyl Record Sales vs CD
When you look at the music revenues from physical products, the numbers are more surprising. For the first time since 1987, vinyl records outsold CDs. There were 41 million vinyl albums sold in 2022, compared to just 33 million albums on compact discs.
That equates to vinyl albums being 70% of all physical music sales in 2022, bringing in a total of $1.2 billion in sales. This was an increase of 17% from the vinyl album revenue of the prior year (2021). It should be noted, too, that 2022 was the sixteenth consecutive year of growth for revenue from vinyl albums.
It doesn’t seem like the popularity of vinyl records is dying out in the near future, either. For the first half of 2023, vinyl record sales were up 21.7% from the first half of 2022, according to Luminate’s 2023 Midyear Music Report, as reported by Variety.
With that said, in spite of the steady growth in vinyl record sales over the past several years, it still doesn’t come close to what vinyl record sales used to be. In 1973, there were between 250 and 300 million albums sold. In the early 1980s, that sales number jumped up to between 300 and 350 million sold. In 2022, however, the number of vinyl records sold was just 41 million.
The sale of vinyl records dropped off significantly in the 1990s through the early 2000s, with the advances of new technology in the form of Compact Discs, Napster, the iPod, and eventually streaming music services.
Key Takeaway: While vinyl record sales are great in terms of physical media sales in a world enamored with streaming music, vinyl sales pale in comparison to its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.
Top Selling Vinyl Records
According to the 2023 Midyear Music Report from Luminate Data, Taylor Swift’s album “Midnights” is the top-selling vinyl record, with 251,000 copies sold in the first half of the year. “Midnights” was also the top-selling vinyl album for the year 2022, selling 945,000 copies.
While most of the top ten selling albums for 2023 are recent releases, there are some classic albums on the top-ten list such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.” The variety of recent albums and older albums released prior to the mid-1980s seems to indicate that it’s not just the nostalgic collectors who are making vinyl sales so very popular.
Why Are Vinyl Albums Popular Again?
The boost in popularity of vinyl records appears to be a mix of nostalgia, preference for the sound of vinyl recordings, and the trendiness of accumulating a vinyl collection.
If you grew up listening to music on vinyl, then you probably understand the nostalgic appeal of collecting vinyl albums. There’s no substitute for the tangible experience of playing a vinyl record. Playing music becomes an active experience rather than a passive experience, as one must physically turn on and off the turntable or switch records.
In a time where many people are trying to limit “screen time” and be mindful of relaxing, the ritual of playing records “the old-fashioned way” has a great deal of appeal.
For many vinyl collectors, the sound of vinyl is arguably the hobby’s biggest advantage. Digital music is popular and convenient, and if one can download lossless audio files (FLAC, ALAC, WAV etc), then the quality is arguably the best in class.
But, most people listen to compressed audio files, like MP3 files, on cheap earbuds or computer speakers. Thus, the sound quality cannot compare to the rich, lively nature of a pristine vinyl record (especially when paired with a great phono preamp or speakers).
Despite its imperfections (the infamous “pop” or “crackle” sounds associated with records), vinyl has a warmth to its sound that enthusiasts can’t live without.
Finally, there are some people who are collecting vinyl records simply because it’s trendy to do so. They might not even own a turntable, but they’ll buy a vinyl album to add to their collection.
Who Is Buying Vinyl Albums?
A recent study from Music Watch, Inc. gave some interesting figures on who is buying music on vinyl (in terms of gender and age). Vinyl sales between men and women are actually fairly close, with men comprising 56% of vinyl sales, and women making up 44% of vinyl sales.
But when sales are broken down by age group, it becomes apparent that younger consumers are buying the most vinyl records. In fact, 47% of vinyl record buyers are aged 25 or younger.
Here’s a breakdown of vinyl purchases by age group:
- 13 to 17 years old – 21% of vinyl sales
- 18 to 25 years old – 26% of vinyl sales
- 26 to 35 years old – 25% of vinyl sales
- 36 to 50 years old – 14% of vinyl sales
- Over 50 years old – 13% of vinyl sales
Where Can You Purchase Vinyl Albums?
One of the best places to buy a vinyl record is directly from the artist or their record label. This can mean either purchasing from the musician’s website or from a website like Bandcamp, whichhelps artists sell their music for minimal fees direct to consumers.
Some musicians also sell their vinyl records directly at concerts; you’ll find them at the merchandise tables along with t-shirts, posters, and other fan-favorite collectibles. When you purchase music (in any format) directly from the artist, a larger cut of the profit goes directly to the musician. This is true for independent musicians as well as internationally famous artists.
Another good source for vinyl records is to find an independent record store in your area. This is an especially good option for both new music releases, as well as vintage vinyl. It’s always a great idea to support your local record stores on Record Store Day, as well.
Discogs is a favorite website for vinyl collectors, as they have one of the biggest online music databases and marketplaces.
And, of course, whenever in doubt, you can purchase records from eBay, as well.
Vinyl Records Are Back, But for How Long?
So is the “vinyl revival” a passing fad, or is vinyl back and here to stay in the long term? Well, it’s not a question that is easy to answer.
If you look strictly at the current revenues from vinyl album sales for the past several years, it looks like this is not a temporary trend. Sales have increased steadily for over a decade and the revenue for the first half of 2023 shows that the increase is still happening.
With more and more current artists like Taylor Swift, Lana Del Ray, and Foo Fighters continually releasing their work on vinyl, it’s a pretty good bet that vinyl records will be around for a while.
It’s worth noting, too, that streaming music isn’t very profitable (despite its popularity). According to The Washington Post, Spotify has “never turned an annual profit.” Similarly, streaming services like Disney+ aren’t profitable either—so much so that Disney is starting to release their streaming exclusive shows to 4K UHD and Blu-ray in an effort to recoup money through physical media sales.
So it seems, to some degree, that companies are beginning to realize that streaming isn’t the golden goose they expected it to be. And that there is money to be made in selling physical media to consumers again.
However, we are living in a time of economic instability right now. With increasing inflation and basic living expenses on the rise, disposable income budgets tend to shrink. When making household budget cuts, “luxury” items (like vinyl records) are the first to go.
It’s tough to know if people will be spending as much money on vinyl records and other entertainment items when money becomes tight. People may become a bit more discriminating in what they choose to purchase, and, more importantly, how many albums per year they add to their collection.
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This article was written by Kimberly and edited by Michael.