Vinyl LPs Sell More Than CDs For The First Time In 3 Decades

Brian Eno’s Apollo vinyl reissue.

Vinyl LPs are a more important physical format for music than CDs for the first time in more than 30 years, according to the latest revenue figures from the RIAA (pdf).

The supremacy of vinyl over CDs is the result of several factors.

While vinyl revenues have increased steadily over the last few years, CD revenues have plummeted.

Labels and artists have capitalized on the resurgence of vinyl to offer deluxe releases – including reissues, remasters and boxed sets.

Vinyl album revenues of $232 million were 62% of total physical revenues, marking the first time vinyl exceeded CDs for such a period since the 1980’s.

There was also significant impact from music retail and venue shutdown measures around Covid-19. Revenues from physical products of $376 million at estimated retail value for first half 2020 were down 23% year-over-year.

It’s also important to note that digital sales and streaming have made physical sales almost a footnote. Digital media now account for about 93% of music revenues.

What formats do you prefer for music? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

45 thoughts on “Vinyl LPs Sell More Than CDs For The First Time In 3 Decades

  1. Vinyl + digital download code is my format of choice, because it’s the best of both worlds.

    It pisses me off, though, when labels don’t give you a download code, and when they don’t indicate on the packaging if the album comes with a download code.

    Labels take note – we’re hardcore fans and we’re already paying for the most expensive physical format possible, just give us the @#(*$ download code!

    1. Agreed! I actually still buy mostly CDs but will buy vinyl for special editions / singles, and much prefer it if there is a d/l code included. I’d buy exclusively vinyl if all vinyl came with one!

  2. Personally I only buy CD since it’s full resolution and legally owning the CD gives me a right to convert it to other formats for my personal use. Downloads don’t come with those rights. CDs also have the right of resale that downloads, which are licensed not sold, do not have.

    I have bought a couple vinyl. I don’t have a turntable. I put the vinyl in a frame on the wall.

    Vinyl outsells CD sounds like the news that wax cylinders are outselling 78s. True, but … ? We also know that compact cassette beats them both. For now…

    Lots of noise in the “long tail”. And probably not important.

    1. Vinyl is so cost prohibitive for most as people don’t have the systems to support it, most importantly the youth.

      Once cars started pulling CD players out, as well as computers, it was bound to drop precipitously. I still have a CD player in the car so it stays viable for now and of course some of us like to have a little control over our product.

    2. Inaccurate to claim that CDs have “full” resolution. That’s not really true unless the source material was recorded at the same 44.1 kHz / 16 bit quality that CDs offer. Higher resolution digital recordings or analog source recordings will not be accurately represented on CD. Some artists are already offering high-res WAV/FLAC/ALAC/etc files which sound much better than CDs.

      1. “which sound much better than CDs” is debatable. I suspect most people, myself included, couldn’t tell any difference between a CD and an SACD if our lives depended on it. Sound quality is subject to the universal law of diminishing returns which is logarithmic, not linear.

    1. It’s reliable if
      – you don’t play it as each pass of a diamond stylus degrades the soft vinyl
      – you don’t mean ‘reliably free of background noise, rumble and wow & flutter’
      – there’s still a supply of oil to make them in the future after we stop extracting it
      – you have strong physical supports to store heavy records

  3. Some facts from the report that were brushed over in this article:

    1. This is only about revenue, not units. People are still buying more CDs than LPs.

    2. Vinyl is winning at revenue, then, because it’s more expensive. CDs are still getting cheaper, while vinyl is getting more expensive. Per unit, an LP is now more than twice as expensive as a CD.

    3. Vinyl unit sales are basically flat. It’s a bit misleading to say that “Revenues from physical products … for first half 2020 were down 23% year-over-year” or to suggest that “CD revenues have plummeted” “over the last few years”. CD sales alone dropped 45% in 1H2020 (y/y). CDs are roughly half the total volume of physical products, so that accounts for the 23% overall drop. Every other category of physical products showed slight growth.

  4. Some people like vinyl sound, because good turntables adds bass and treble, by the mechanical resonance of the arm for the bass, and the electric resonance between the inductance of the cartridge, and the capacitance of the cable between turntable and amplifier for the treble. This used to compensate for poor response curve from loudspeakers. But with good loudspeakers, that have a flat response curve, CD sound is superior. All this vinyl hype is just marketing.

    1. I’ll have to call that out as tripe. You will get a low frequency resonance point but this will be subsonic so there’s nothing to excite it. You’ll have capacitive of cable between a CD player in the same way you have in the signal cable from the turntable. It’s ok for both. I can dig through my brain for the inductance “problem”.

      Don’t forget turntables easily had a frequency response an octave past 20k back in the 70s. Standard CD players still don’t today. (I’ll save you the effort, quadraphonic. Stylus shapes to track this. Red book CD). And no, we didn’t have speakers for turntables (because of the reputed response problems). I would argue the opposite that speakers of the boom box type dealing with mp3 type files have greater colourations.

  5. I only buy Vinyl for two reasons, to support the artist that i love and to hang them on the wall for decoration.
    Vinyl is a nice size for decoration a lot of them can be on the wall in any way you like and you are reminded of the music you love. CD’s are just to smal for decoration.
    Call me crazy but i never play them or take them out of the plastic, for playback i just like the convenience of digital better.

    1. Agreed. CDs and downloadable was the death of a graphical art form – Album Art. I’m not saying that all of them were great, but certainly there is a subset of album art that was truly interesting and an extension of the musical aesthetic of the recording itself.

  6. Not that shocking as vinyl offers a distinct product that digital can’t compete with and Target started reselling it.

    The real wildcard is cassettes as they are portable and way cheaper to make and are tape. If someone chooses to make a portable player at a cheap price, I like the odds of its place as the alternate to digital downloads..

    1. I think you missed this part where it says…

      “It’s also important to note that digital sales and streaming have made physical sales almost a footnote. Digital media now account for about 93% of music revenues.”

      It also says that vinyl makes “62% of total physical revenues,” which means CD, tape, and vinyl, NOT digital.

      This means that vinyl only actually makes up around 4-5% of all music sales. Digital is destroying all physical media.

  7. The death of physical media is a really good thing for the planet. We’re no longer manufacturing billions of useless little plastic discs every year and the massive record companies have more-or-less collapsed. The record industry has a long record of basically robbing artists blind.

    1. this is far from true. It’s wrong to imagine the Internet as some sort of ethemeral immaterial construct. It’s the biggest infrastructure in the world, consisting of megatons of plastic and metal, and consuming more electricity than some heavy industries. Cloud servers are huge ass hangars, and submarine cables consists litterally of hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rubber, polyethilene, copper, steel, lead etc, slowly rotting under the ocean. Also, it’s all dead without power, wich means every second music in your apple music collection eats coal, while your vinyl collection is basically yours forever.
      And the giants of the music industry are stronger then ever, and they still rob both musicians and content creators on Youtube and alike.

    2. Totally agree with you there. As an artist I couldn’t really justify doing a physical release these days whether it’s vinyl, CD, or cassette. The thing is that labels/artists will make more of a profit margin on a physical object and consumers are so used to getting data for free that digital downloads are seen as having nearly zero intrinsic value. So the profit motive for physical objects remains, but eventually the sales of these objects will drop to nearly zero. Somewhat sad for music releases as art objects, who doesn’t love a big vinyl record with huge high-quality printed artwork, but on an ecological basis this is a good trend.

  8. Vinyl may sound great, but it has a sizable ecological downside, with dependence on refining petroleum and the harmful chemical agents released during production..It’s very surprising that we’re moving backward in this area.

    1. Cd are made from polycarbonate, aluminum and acrylic ( and non recyclable )
      streaming and download = servers ( big consumers of energy) .streaming possibly worse than owning a physical copy , if repeat listening to same album
      not sure that any of these is better than the other ….

      1. It’s funny that you mention this. It made me thing about it. I think energy consumption wise, it is more economical to have a server which streams to 1000 people than 1000 people who all connect their own cd player or record player to a power source (unless you run it off of solar or something)… and yes the user’s phone or pc will use power as well, but these devices are normally already on and not specifically turned on to listen to music. If you factor in the production line and distribution of the physical medium, in the end, I think digital streaming wins it on the environmental level.

        1. I think you are correct. A popular stat says: “All of the energy concentrated in one gallon of gasoline is enough to charge an iPhone once a day for almost 20 years.” So just the act of driving to the local record store is consuming far more energy than using the phone to stream audio, and the streaming apparatus is serving vastly larger numbers of people. There is also a trend towards making data centers energy efficient or even running them 100% on renewable energy.

      2. Servers are big consumers of energy, but there are ongoing efforts to run them on renewables (as Google and Apple do).

        Consider not just the plastic disc but the manufacturing, raw material, transportation, distribution, etc. No comparison really, the digital route is far more efficient than making millions of plastic things which have a single use.

  9. Vinyl is a lot of troubles. You always have plicks and plocks coming from the surface. Your turntable needle needs to be changed regularly. The dynamics of the last pieces (close to the center) are not as great as the ones from the border, and therefore the sound is distorted. But as a physical medium, with its large booklet, it is more satisfying. And with a good scotch, it creates great evening moments.

  10. LPs are appealingly organic, from the compression that makes virtually all of them sound “warm” to the room for killer cover art. They also drove me nuts with their steady decay. I always taped new albums right away for safety. One small blemish or cat urp and that great cut becomes a regret. I’m happy to have full-range CDs and flash drives full of WAVs now. Look Ma, no skips or clicks. I still have a box of cassettes that sound pretty clean, too. There’s no escaping The Pile of Stuff.

    1. That is why my music collection has always been digital from the 90s on. I got rid of all tapes, cds and minidiscs and digitized everything. I have escaped The Pile Of Stuff. Although I keep collecting synthesizers :/

    1. Now put on a 96 kHz / 24-bit FLAC file released directly by the artist… perhaps mixed down from analog tape masters.

      CD quality hasn’t improved since the 1980s but digital audio has improved substantially.

  11. What do I do with all my 1970’s-80′ 1960″s, albums they’re in excellent condition. Text me back if you get this message please thanks

  12. My personal opinion, vinyl discs are a step back in the evolution of music storage technology. I only understand it as for old school sentimentalists that want to remember “the good old days” of their youth. Not a single advantage over digital storage.

    1. I seem to notice that it’s for new-school sentimentalists under 40 who probably never even owned a record player in the first place (but their parents might have had one).

  13. Always been Vinyl since a kid in the 70s.
    Grew up loving to see the stylus riding the Vinyl and music playing along the way.

    Today in my late 40s still love to see the Ortofon concorde riding the Vinyl. Its a wow experience. Of course always liked Vinyl, sound is always good. None of my Cds and SACD sound close lIke Vinyl.
    But there are some Vinyl that are pressed badly as a result worse than than a Cd.

  14. Vinyl has so many downsides compared to digital – sound, fragility, durability, price and all the space it takes up. But I bet the last point is a pro to most «collectors», kind of hard to brag about a digital collection, whereas vinyl is basically made for this. A pathetic way of showing off one’s individuality, in most cases I feel. The most dedicated fans (of music, not formats or interior design) can be seen walking around with headphones or earbuds, while my friends with decks only use them for sampling or to brag, directly or indirectly. Also loving the vinyl only dj-crowd, solely supporting artists that can afford a vinyl release. Elitism.

    1. More tripe. i have about 10 CDs and 2 of them have rotted to a point where i cant play them. i have 1000s of records and only one cracked and became unplayable. i have 50 year old records that play and sound good. nothing on them that a good clean won’t sort out and plenty dont need a clean, especially ones i have owned from new. I started buying records when i was young and that was the only way to consume music. CDs came along but I was happy with the sound of my turntable so why would I jump format? It isn’t a fashion thing (something I am good at when I need to be), it is just how I consume music

      I buy records because I love music. They take up the space they do. Tell me who I am bragging to when my social life is outside the house? Who sees my records but the cat, the girlfriend and me? It isn’t bragging or showing my individuality as the friends I matured with were chosen for their love of music and still have that with whatever sized collection on whatever format they have the music in.

      Terrible inverted snobbery. I dont care what format your music is in. Can you enjoy people buying music in a format that gives the best cut to actual musicians? I hear people bragging about how many tracks they have downloaded (do they own them outright?). I know I have 1000s of records, no idea exactly how many or how many tracks. Having worked in domestic hi-fi and now pro-audio, rest assured there are people from every opinion and each side of every argument. Non-vinyl people who are tweaky and brag about kit etc. What is wrong with liking kit for kits sake?

      People walk around with headphones on listening to the same tiny selection of the most commercial music or if you see me with headphones on walking to work, i will be listening to Radio4. 6Music all day at work. Settle down to enjoy music at home from a nice turntable. I like to keep this a bit more special. I also make music and synthesisers and get out to gigs. But how can I like music if I buy vinyl?

  15. I’m a lossless/hi-res digital download and CD guy. I tried vinyl and did not like it. I hate that albums are split across multiple records. If I wanna listen to an album, I want an uninterrupted journey. It completely takes me out of the zone when I gotta flip sides or change records altogether every 15 minutes. I want to put on an album and shut out the world. No distractions, just the music. Also, for the price, it’s 50/50 if your record is even gonna arrive in pristine condition. Bent corners, splits, etc. Plus the audible noise associated with the format, such as pops and crackles. Sorry, vinyl just ain’t for me. I ain’t gonna spend money on a format that more than likely arrives damaged and adds noise that isn’t featured on the original source audio. It happened to me too many times that I gave up on it. The only positive thing about vinyl is the large artwork. But then again, not every album design is a work of art. You get the occasional beautifully done record, but few and far in between. I want the purest audio. Hi-res music is like the mastering engineer handing you the album once it’s finished. No downgrading or added noise due to a physical format (CD, tape, vinyl). But I’d take a CD over vinyl any day. But now with hi-res music, it’s the best there is when it comes to the purest audio source.

    Can we make vinyl sized Blu-ray? Then it’ll be the best of all worlds. Large artwork, hi-res audio, no added noise. ?

  16. I prefer vinyl by several reasons:
    1) tangible piece of art with big album cover. For now I remember many artwork from vinyls and almost zero in a digital form (when we can have unlimited size picture too).

    2) I can listen music by albums not by skipped tracks and in order that author want it need to be played. I dont need any modern gadgets which can be switched from music station to surfing machine. When we say about ecology we need also think about mental ecology when we spend so much time on Internet instead other activities like now:)

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