Vinyl Revenue Looks Set to Overtake CD – But is it all Hype?

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry3 Comments

Vinyl sales figures could be on track to overtake CD sales by the end of the year, but should we really be surprised? Is it all just hype? Here’s our take on the recently released figures: 

According to new figures released in the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) mid-year report, vinyl records earned $224.1 million (from 8.6 million units) in the first half of 2019. CD numbers, on the other hand, hit $247.9 million from 18.6 million units.

Vinyl sales have been growing steadily over the last ten years, and if current trends continue, vinyl sales figures could surpass CD over the coming months. If that does happen, it’ll be the first time since 1986.

Clearly, some context is required. It’s import to note that we’re talking about revenue here, not units sold. Also, vinyl remains a niche market when compared to overall music consumption. Record sales accounted for only 4% of total revenues in the first half of 2019. 

Overall, in 2019, physical sales make up around 9% of the market, while streaming services now account for 80% of all recorded music sales. Digital downloads continue to decline rapidly, and now sit par with revenue from physical at just 9%.

I’m not going to dwell too much on the figures; they are covered extensively by a whole host of news outlets, and you can get a pretty comprehensive overview from Digital Music News. Instead, I’d like to focus on what this means for vinyl records, and what our take is at Sound Matters. 

Evidently, the future looks bleak for digital downloads. That much is clear. CD sales are also relatively flat, while vinyl sales continue to grow steadily. It’s an exciting time to get into vinyl records, however, it’s important we keep things in perspective. 

Following the release of the RIAA’s data, social media was awash with excitement from some vinyl enthusiasts about the apparent rise-and-rise of vinyl.

Other people and organizations responded with a more skeptical tone, rightly pointing out that vinyl remains a tiny percentage of overall music consumption.

So what’s going on here?

It’s not rocket science to draw some conclusions. Clearly streaming is here to stay for the foreseeable future as the main music consumption channel of the masses. Digital downloads experienced a very brief period in the top-spot before the convenience of subscription services triumphed.

CD sales will continue to decline. There have been suggestions of a future CD revival to come, driven by generation Z nostalgia. But to be honest, I just can’t see this taking off in the same way as vinyl.

In the digital age, vinyl offers the perfect antidote to the soullessness of streaming. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to believe that streaming is actually helping to feed the resurgence of vinyl sales. 

Consumers are embracing streaming services for their convenience and low-cost, but when it comes to the music they love most, vinyl offers the highest-value physical ownership option.

Not everyone is happy with this development, as some folks are quick to raise the contentious issue of price. Records remain a highly expensive way of collecting music. Who knows, if demand continues to rise and production capacity catches up, perhaps we’ll see the cost start to fall. For now, there’s no sign of this changing any time soon.

As rightly pointed out in the Twitter reply above, used CDs are one of the best bargains going right now for those who prefer to consume music physically. Most charity stores stock a large amount of unwanted CD’s all basement prices of just a dollar or two. (Usually a couple of quid in the UK).

The Bottom Line

All logic would suggest we can expect to see this trend continue over the coming months and years. Despite the convenience of streaming, there will always be a demand for the physical product from those who want a more complete experience. Vinyl is clearly the most compelling and collectible physical format that offers great sound quality, an addictive ritual that encourages emotional connection, and beautiful artwork.

I sincerely hope that vinyl continues to have a meaningful place in the market, as I believe it’s the best way to experience music. However, there are threats to this trend. 

Quality control in the production of vinyl records continues to cause headaches, with pressing errors still dogging new releases. Vinyl is priced as a premium product, and if quality issues prevail, it’s only a matter of time before this impacts sales across the board.

Secondly, pricing does remain high. Digital download cards often make a new-vinyl purchase feel like better value for money, but increasingly, many new releases do not include such luxuries. Surely a digital copy is the least they can do to ensure the high prices feel justified.

If the industry can address quality and supply issues to ensure good value for money, there’s no reason why vinyl records couldn’t surpass CD in terms of units-sold, let alone revenue. Vinyl could, as we’ve stated before, feasibly outlive the CD. How ironic that would be. 


  • Marc Henshall

    Marc is the owner of Sound Matters and a musician with a BSc Honours Degree in Music Technology. His love for records grew in the fallout from digital downloads and a feeling that, somehow, without the physical medium, the magic was lost.

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