Vinyl just outsold CDs for the first time in decades

When you look at the overall numbers, though, it sounds less impressive.

cropped image of mixed race girl turning on gramophone with retro vinyl at home

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIIA) has released its mid-year report for 2020. Vinyl and streaming subscriptions have fared the best during the pandemic. Streaming continues to grow, fueling the music industry’s revenue boom. In news that could have been ripped from 1987 headlines, vinyl sales greatly surpassed CD sales. This year, however, LPs and EPs only accounted for about four percent of overall revenue.

Streaming is the future, but so is vinyl — It’s unsurprising that, as we’re encouraged to stay indoors and away from each other, streaming subscriptions have climbed. Comparing mid-year reports from last year to 2020, paid subscriptions increased by 14 percent to $3.8 billion. Spotify’s paid subscriber base has grown this year with people seeking music for chilling or doing chores.

Overall streaming went up 12 percent, but ad-supported streaming revenue’s growth slowed significantly due to the major dropoff in advertising. Outright purchasing digital music is down by 22 percent, continuing a downwards trend towards obsoletion.

Vinyl has steadily risen in recent years, but it continues to be on the fringe of overall music sales. Despite its marginal hold on the industry at large, it’s the only darling of physical music sales which fell by roughly $109 million. You might readily ask "Do people really still buy CDs?" and well, they used to. Vinyl and CDs were getting pretty neck-in-neck last year, but current numbers have LPs and EPs bringing in nearly twice as much revenue.

The RIIA attributes this cliff to the closure of stores and the widespread cancellation of tours. Artists have responded flexibly, embracing virtual concerts — especially when they can leverage popular video games like Minecraft and Fortnite. While these performances are often free or tip/donation-based, they are still valuable drivers to merch sales.

How’s the industry doing? — Despite taking some serious blows from the pandemic, the music industry has managed a little overall growth. Revenue is up 5.6 percent to $5.7 billion for the first half of the year. If the industry can at least match these numbers as the year comes to a close, it would continue rival sales from the early aughts.