Uh-Oh: The Vinyl Train Is Starting to Slow

Is this a nostalgia bubble ready to go ‘pop‘?

After posting breakneck, 39.3 percent gains in 2011, vinyl sales may simply be losing steam.  Indications are coming from just-released, US-based stats from Nielsen Soundscan, which show marked decreases in both absolute and percentage sales gains.

These are first-half (January through June) comparisons.  In 2011, first-half vinyl album sales topped 1.9 million, a gain of 600,000 (41 percent).  In the current year, sales reached 2.2 million during the first half, a gain of 300,000 (14.2 percent).

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25 Responses

  1. Surprised?

    So for £9.99 a month I can get 20 million tracks on my PC and my iPhone, instantly avaliable.

    For the same price I can get a large piece of plastic 5x as big as my phone with 15 tracks on it.

    Mmmmmmm….decisions, decisions….

    • lifer

      Music. That most sacred of human endeavor has been reduced to “20 million tracks.” I suppose, that for some, the abundance of mass produced, genetically modified, preservative enhanced “music” is nothing more than track # abc x 20M. But those who prefer music hand crafted by the free will of local artisans under free range conditions, often enjoy a bit of narrative, embodied in human form, to go with the noise.

      Written while listening to Sigur Ros’ Valtari (33 1/3 RPM Vinyl LP).

      • Visitor

        I LOVE music. So if I can get access to 20 million tracks for £9.99 a month, then I am in a JOYFUL world with ALL THAT music. Things move on, technology always revolves around ACCESS. It always been that way. So Vinyl is dead, so what?

        • lifer

          Glad to know you love music. All the best to you. Even though I have thousands of legally purchased LPs, EPs, singles, CDs, cassettes and mp3s I know that I will NEVER in one lifetime be able to lovingly embrace and enjoy 20 million tracks of carefully selected and intelligently curated music.

          Some people love the music makers as much as the music they create. Maybe it has something to do with the style and definition of music. Music use to be made by musicians while today, there are whole genres in which technicians “remake” the music created by musicians. The current crop of DJs enjoying their moment are in essence MCs (remember them?) presiding over a party of prerecorded music that was, at some point in the process, created by musicians. Quite a few degrees of seperation away from the original artist. Under this scenario there is virtually no connection with the artist and who cares who made the original track when the DJ is now the star. (Unfortunately there is often no virtual connection either.)

          “Vinyl is dead” is an inaccurate statement which was not present in this article only in your “reply” which, in truth, was not a reply but a statement, false though it may be. Vinyl may be on “lifesupport” but it is still breathing. Maybe not enough to support major label business models or tech company “burn rate/sell equity to fools before it’s too late” timetables but as long as there are people who cherish LPs vinyl-focused retailers such as UK’s Norman or Ohio’s Experimedia or Germany’s Denovali and many many others worldwide will service them with product from music makers who appreciate their support.

          Written while listening to Eric Dolphy @ The 5 Spot on vinyl LP purchased from a local independent retailer.

    • Versus

      Quantity does not mean quality. Of course, the digital vs. analog quality question is hardly settled.

      Also, there are the intangibles involved with vinyl, which some listeners at least value highly: the physical interaction with the medium, the artwork, the history, etc…

      – V

    • Quality Lover

      Lets see, for $2 million dollars I can get a Ferarri Enzo.
      Ferrari Enzo

      For the same $2 million dollars I can get a thousand Ford Escorts

      Hmmmm decisions, decisions….

  2. iHateApple

    Hey download guy, I feel sad for you!
    You’ve never listened to music!
    Just tunes from opamp plastic!
    Back to life and spin some records dude!

  3. DingDong

    Love vinyl. Bought a ton during Record Store Day.

    Problem is, vinyl is too expensive. I realize that there are few plants and pressing demand is high, vinyl is probably not cheap, and shipping heavy plastic adds up.

    Still, vinyl seems like a quick profit grab by the labels, big and small. And whn you find out some aren’t using the right source (ie, CD master), it just adds up to a negative experience.

    • Anthony

      Quick profit grab?

      You said it yourself: “Problem is, vinyl is too expensive. I realize that there are few plants and pressing demand is high, vinyl is probably not cheap, and shipping heavy plastic adds up.”

      When you take everything into consideration, making vinyl loses money. It isn’t a quick profit grab.

      So tired of reading stories about how labels are the bad guys. Most of the indie labels I know are the ‘band’ guys. We put our hands into our pockets to help fellow musicians realize their musical dreams in a very difficult (if not impossible) market. Most of us haven’t made money in many years now.

      Off my soapbox…

      • Erik P

        No, you don’t lose money w/ vinyl (you do w/ digital, though). Artists notroiously undecut themselves because they’re afraid to ask for what their product is actually worth. It’s the curse of the artist. One of the many reasons why it’s a good idea for any artist to have someone with business sense on the team.

    • Tone

      Even if vinyl was a “quick profit grab”, which it isn’t, what’s wrong with that? Do you want musicians to stay poor forever?

  4. Visitor

    The tech companies hate vinyl, because it can’t be pirated as easy as an Amazon download – and then they won’t be able to sell you their “new” hard drives after six months.

    Guess what happens when the rich companies hate something? They throw money at the media (mainstream and “alternative”) so that it gets pushed down.

    Funny fact: Steve Jobs loved vinyl for his personal entertainment…

  5. Tone

    What about CD and Digital Album sales? Are they slowing too?

    • paul


      The short answer is that for the first half (H1), CDs are declining markedly, digital albums are still gaining in double-digit percentages, and broader albums are down roughly 3 (or, I think 3.2) percent.

      When I’m back at a computer I’ll check the stats.


    • paul

      Tone: here’s the detailed physical breakdown (CDs, vinyl, and maybe trace amounts of cassettes and other formats). Digital album sales gained 13.8 percent to 57.2 mm units during the first half.

      • wallow-T

        Woah. Current-release physical CDs down 20%, and that’s with Adele’s “21” still selling heavily. I think that is the lead-balloon number that is dragging down the entire “album” sales total.

  6. Erik P

    There’s more supply than demand. If you want people to buy vinyl, or anything for that matter, you need to go above the call of duty & make it count. Many artists/labels aren’t changing anything w/ their vinyl release(s). They’re just following the flow of fads (digital, vinyl, crowdfunding, etc.) & it’s like a feeding frenzy anytime one artist does well. It’s not necessarily vinyl that people want – it’s the tangibility, scarcity, experience and aesthetics that comes along with great music that people (vinyl fans) want.

    Vinyl is here to stay since it never went away to begin with; however if you (the artist) want to sell your record it’s imperative that you don’t release just a record, but an amazing experience (both emotional & visual).

    And no, vinyl is not too expensive…you’re just used to downloading cheap/free music. Like anything else in this world, if you want to own something of quality it will cost you a bit more.

    In my eyes, this isn’t an “uh-oh” for vinyl, but for artists. Like one commentor mentioned…’vinyl is a quick cash grab’. If that’s you’re attitude as an artist building a brand, than you don’t deserve to sell anything…

    • lifer

      yeah, what he said (except for confusing than with then)

  7. Nick strongbow

    As so often happens with statistics they may not be saying what you think they are. Almost certainly demand for vinyl remains strong and getting stronger, the problem is supply not demand. Old machines limited manufacturing waiting lists for stck on re runs

    • paul


      I sat in on a very informative panel at SXSW about this, specifically the manufacturing limitations surrounding vinyl. As you know, there’s no such thing as a state of the art vinyl facility, it’s not like an Apple cloud server compound with the most modern equipment. These are all pretty hardscrabble, technical and manufacturing experts using equipment from the 60s and 70s (generally). There aren’t really parts you can just order, you can’t just double production or order new machines.

      The question is when there’s clear justification to commit massive capital outlays to this format. I’d be extremely cautious about buying extremely expensive machines, but the entire supply chain would have to be revitalized. With enough demand, old Adam Smith tells us it would happen. But, I’m guessing not at this level, which introduces this complicated chicken-and-egg scenario that you’ve described.

      Only problem is that supply and demand are often interrelated. In the earlier, physical retail-driven music industry, for example, it was well known that if your CD wasn’t available on Tuesday (release day), and someone came looking for it, the likelihood of them purchasing it later was greatly diminished. Supply problems altered demand.

      Which means, in the vinyl context, that lack of availability could have an effect on demand and mainstreaming. Though I wouldn’t dare predict the nuances of that relationship.


  8. fmomboisse

    en tout cas c’est pas le vinyl qui va le remplacer…

  9. cipher

    Vinyl…has been reduced to a niche market…as less people purchase vinyl so it will become more expensive so less will be purchased.. the sales growth looked impressive…however, it came for a low base.I have a large vinyl collection played on high end equipment it sounds great. That is not how it is for at least 90% of the population. mp3’s and the like are convenient and inexpensive and quite frankly adequate for most reproduction.So those diehards get used to it because that is the way it is going to be.Been in the industry for a long time and seen a lot of changes and this one is here to stay..Been testing a 256 gig solid state storage stick…just imagine how much I will be able to store on it with 320 mp3.


  10. Billy Fields

    All numbers based on full length LPs only. This does not include 12″ singles, which is included in Soundscans “Overall” LP numbers.

    2008 was up 88.8% over 2007

    2009 was up 36.0% over 2008

    2010 was up 11.1% over 2009

    2011 was up 36.3% over 2010

    2012 YTD is up 13.4% over 2011

    If the numbers hold we’ll end up selling between 4.4-4.5M units in 2012, which will be a 13-15% increase over 2011.

    Slow down? Nope. Natual ebb and flow of a format that remains in demand? Yep. And because we are talking about a physical format you need look no further than your local record store to find out if their vinyl business is slowing. (Hint: It’s not slowing.)

  11. atlasiris

    So, the statistics show that compared to 2010, 2012 has seen 55% more in record sales? Also it is a 14% increase over 2011. Does not seem bad at all to me considering the global financial scenario. Having statistics is great but understanding it seem a tough task for many 🙂