No longer just a niche hobby for dads and hipsters, vinyl is experiencing a major resurgence in mainstream music. According to the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) annual revenue report, vinyl records outsold CDs in the US last year for the first time since 1987, selling 41 million units against 33 million for CD.
Vinyl record sales have consistently increased over the last 16 years according to the RIAA report published on Thursday, now accounting for 71 percent of all physical music format revenue. The growth margins here aren’t trivial, either — while physical formats as a whole increased by 4 percent, earning $1.7 billion between 2021 and 2022, vinyl sales alone accounted for $1.2 billion, experiencing a 17 percent increase in sales compared to the previous year. Comparatively, CD sales plummeted by 18 percent in 2022.
Vinyl was already overtaking CD for revenue in the US prior to surpassing the medium in outright unit sales last year.Image: Recording Industry Association of America
The RIAA isn’t the first to claim that vinyl has overtaken CD. The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) reported the same milestone earlier this year, though its figures only referenced UK sales data. Renewed interest in the format has also taken hold outside of the UK and the US, with sales growth similarly reported across Germany, Japan, and South Korea.
There are several factors driving the vinyl revival. Many audiophiles claim the format provides a warmer, more authentic sound compared to digital (though some would argue this is largely subjective). Nostalgia also plays a part for those who lived through the golden age of vinyl, but younger generations are driving sales too, praising the format’s tangibility and artwork. Artists for the Gen-Z and millennial demographic made up a significant number of record sales in 2022. Taylor Swift was the highest-selling artist last year, selling almost 1.7 million vinyl records alone — more than Harry Styles (719,000 sales) and The Beatles (553,000 sales) combined, according to Luminate’s year-end sales report.
While vinyl has made an impressive comeback, streaming still reigns supreme. The RIAA report found that music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music accounted for a whopping 84 percent of total music revenue in 2022, having grown by seven percent compared to the previous year to a record high of $13.3 billion. Digital download sales, however, continue to decline. The format plummeted by 20 percent this year to just $495 million, having already fallen by 12 percent in 2021. Despite the popularity of digital music, it seems consumers value the convenience of streaming over actual ownership — unless of course, you can physically hold that music in a protective cardboard sleeve.