Everything comes back into style eventually. Usually, this wisdom applies more to fashion trends than technology, but the recent popularity of vinyl records proves that statement to be true.
Vinyl sales have been steadily increasing for 16 years, well after modern innovations like compact discs (CDs) and MP3s made old-fashioned records seemingly obsolete. While hipsters and dads may have driven the early resurgence of vinyl, it’s clear now that the phenomenon is mainstream.
Vinyl record sales in the U.S. officially outsold CDs in 2022, marking the first time vinyl has topped physical music sales since 1987, according to an annual revenue report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Just over 41 million vinyl records were sold in America last year, the report found, compared to only 33 million CDs.
Vinyl sales accounted for about 71 per cent of physical format revenues in 2022, with records bringing in about US$1.2 billion (just over $1.6 billion), meanwhile, CD sales amounted to a paltry US$483 million ($660 million).
While vinyl record sales are up 17 per cent from 2021, CD sales have experienced an almost equivalent decline, falling 18 per cent from last year.
The RIAA found that music revenue as a whole is growing steadily in the U.S., and reached a record high of US$15.9 billion ($21.7 billion) in 2022. That growth was largely driven by music streaming, but it’s hard to ignore the rise in physical sales.
While artists can earn less than a penny per stream on popular services like Spotify and Apple Music, their profits are considerably higher for physical sales when vinyl records carry price points of $40 or more.
The RIAA report noted that 2020 was a muted year for music revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but 2021 brought a “remarkable resurgence” to the physical format, and it’s been growing ever since.
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In the United Kingdom, the Entertainment Retailers Association is also heralding the revival of vinyl. U.K. sales in 2022 showed that vinyl also outsold CDs for the first time since 1987, with record sales growing 11 per cent compared to a 17 per cent fall in CD sales.
There are a number of reasons driving the vinyl renaissance. Some audiophiles claim the format produces a richer, more authentic sound when compared to digital recordings, and younger people who grew up with iPods and MP3 players have praised the tangibility and ritual of handling and playing vinyl records on a turntable. Overall, using a record player feels like a more intentional way to enjoy music.
And in the era of music streaming, buying vinyl records has been a way for some fans to own a piece of their favourite artist’s music. In this way, physical records can hold sentimental value like concert merchandise.
Last year’s vinyl record sales demonstrate that vinyl is “cementing its role as a fixture of the modern music marketplace,” RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier said in a post on Medium.
“Music lovers clearly can’t get enough of the high-quality sound and tangible connection to artists vinyl delivers,” Glazier said, “and labels have squarely met that demand with a steady stream of exclusives, special reissues, and beautifully crafted packages and discs.”