Vinyl sales surpass CDs for the first time since 1986
A mid-year revenue report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has revealed vinyl sales in 2020 have surpassed compact disc (CD) sales for the first time since the mid-1980s. The report also reveals the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the physical media music market hard but streaming music subscriptions are up.
For the last decade the resurgence of vinyl has been slow and steady. From a constant parade of novel turntable designs to Sony resuming vinyl production in one of its Japanese plants after a 30-year pause, it's been clear this old medium has a growing fanbase.
In the newly released RIAA revenue report, it seems vinyl has finally put the CD back in its place. For the first time since 1986 gross vinyl sales were higher than CD sales. According to the report, across the first half of 2020 American vinyl sales accounted for US$232 million in revenue compared to just $129.9 million for CD sales.
Perhaps more interesting is the observation that vinyl sales have not significantly grown in 2020 compared to the first half of 2019. In fact, vinyl sales in the first half of last year were just $224 million. However, the big shift indicated in the report is a huge tumble in CD sales so far this year, falling nearly 50 percent from $247 million in the first half of 2019.
The RIAA does suggest a large portion of this drop in CD sales is due to retail shutdown measures due to COVID-19 in the early part of 2020. But both the RIAA report and a separate music industry Nielsen report found general music retail sales swiftly recovered after an initial pandemic-related drop in March/April.
What this all means is, although a number of people did stop buying CDs in early 2020, vinyl buyers kept on buying, and the CD market did not bounce back. The vinyl market may remain strong, but it seems a large volume of those buying CDs may have simply shifted their music purchasing habits across to streaming services.
The RIAA report does note, while vinyl accounts for 62 percent of all physical media music purchases so far in 2020, this still only accounts for a paltry 4 percent of total music revenue. Paid music subscriptions, such as Spotify, have only grown bigger in 2020, up 24 percent from last year and accounting for a stunning $3.3 billion, or 72 percent of total music revenue.
So while vinyl may be on the rise, physical media in general is still broadly in decline. The COVID-19 pandemic will certainly be responsible for a vast amount of changes to modern civilization but who would have thought it could be the nail in the coffin for the compact disc.