Two Ways to View the Vinyl ‘Comeback’

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source: Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).  All figures in millions, and US-based.


31 Responses

  1. jw

    You can’t directly compare record sales from when record players were household items to now, when they’re not. Clearly.

    When vinyl sales were at their peak, vinyl was relevant to every artist. Now the relevance of vinyl varies greatly from artist to artist… these “birds eye view” takes on vinyl are worthless. It may have no place in your strategy, or it may be the only thing on your merch table.

    Anyone who thinks vinyl sales will return to anywhere near 1970s levels is an idiot. Record players will never be household items like they once were. And major mainstream stars will often have no demand for vinyl whatsoever. But that doesn’t change the fact that vinyl is single-handedly floating a lot of working bands right now.

    To downplay the vinyl resurgence the way you so often do, Paul, is basically saying, “All we really need is Beyonce & Jay Z & Katy Perry… if it’s not mainstream, if it’s not taking place on the radio or in arenas, it’s overrated at best.”

    • Paul Resnikoff

      You’re putting so many words in my mouth, I’m having trouble responding with my own. The point of this post is to put the vinyl resurgence into historical perspective, an aspect that is almost always lost in popular coverage of this topic.

      And this doesn’t even begin to address to broader revenue contribution of vinyl on the recorded music side (hint: it’s still tiny).

  2. KnobTwiddler

    I think his point is exactly that – levels are nothing near the 70’s and they’re never going to get there so why are we calling it a resurgence? It’s great that a lot of bands are putting out vinyl now – but it’s SOOOOO expensive to do right that I would challenge anyone to find a small indie band ‘floating’ on it right now. More like being bogged down trying to justify creating a product with an $7-8 unit cost (on a good day) that MAYBE 100 fans will buy. I’d argue vinyl is actually killing profits for smaller bands whose fans don’t realize there is essentially no profit in a vinyl release that isn’t A) specifically aimed at the audiophile market and has the mastering, cutting and manufacturing pedigree to go along with it or B) a Jay-Z/Beyonce or Katy perry type ‘top 20’ record

    • so


      And try to make sense of vinyl that goes through a distributor to retail. Little to no margin unless you are pressing a very large run, which very few bands have the funds or fanbase to justify. For low to midlevel indie artists, vinyl is primarily a status piece, and for most of the fanbase, a fashion statement.

      • jw

        >> More like being bogged down trying to justify creating a
        >> product with an $7-8 unit cost (on a good day) that
        >> MAYBE 100 fans will buy.

        If you’re only going to sell 100 copies, maybe you ought not be pressing vinyl. But the reality is that 22m records were sold last year. If that’s spread out over 1,000 releases, that’s 22,000 sales per release. Even if we distribute that over 5,000 releases, it’s 4,400 sales per release. Now, obviously a lot of these sales aren’t new releases. But at the same time the RIAA doesn’t track all sales of vinyl, so we don’t really know the true impact it’s currently having. The bottom line that your assertion that a typical vinyl release is going to sale “maybe 100 copies” is retarded. True for some bands, very not true for others.

        A $10 margin on an $8 product isn’t a bad proposition so long as you don’t overestimate the demand & so long as you can front the cash for production. It’s no different than something like a hoodie.

        Again, its relevance varies from band to band. But you should stop dolling out terrible advice.

        • so

          That wasn’t my assertion. It’s as simple as this: there are a lot of ways that low to mid-level bands can spend money. For the vast majority, manufacturing vinyl records should be pretty far down the list.

          • jw

            It depends entirely on what type of band you are & who your fanbase is.

            For what it’s worth, I agree that going through a distributor to retail isn’t a cost effective way to distribute vinyl unless there’s a certain level of demand for the record. But direct to fan sales (both at shows and online) can be very profitable.

            I’m not at all arguing that everyone should press vinyl. But I am arguing against the idea that people aren’t making money off of it.

        • Hippydog

          Quote “A $10 margin on an $8 product isn’t a bad proposition so long as you don’t overestimate the demand & so long as you can front the cash for production. It’s no different than something like a hoodie.”

          /\ What he said..

  3. anon

    To me, the right questions to ask are these: (a) “What is the realistic ceiling for vinyl moving forward from 2015; and (b) Once this ceiling is reached, can sales volume be sustained at that level?

    Eyeballing the chart, it looks like 2015 vinyl sales volume is pretty similar to 1990 volume (or perhaps a bit higher). Is it realistic to get back to 1987 level?

    Hard to say on the second question. Vinyl could be a fad. But especially if vinyl sales do double or triple before reaching their ceiling, vinyl could be an important niche moving forward. That said, it’s not going to save the music business either.

  4. Percentages?

    I’d be interested to see a similar breakdown based on percentage of the physical market.

    According to the RIAA: ‘[2014] marks the first year since 1987 that vinyl LPs were a double digit percentage of the physical market (14%).’

  5. Wooly

    While the percent increase is good, I don’t know that the small numbers really can be called a comeback.

  6. Sam

    Now let’s see a chart comparing Spotify streams now, and in 1975. Pointless.

  7. superduper

    I think that vinyl is inherently limited by its basic design. It’s too big, it’s too heavy, it’s rather user-unfriendly, it’s too difficult to maintain, it’s too expensive, and it can’t really be digitized.
    I would agree that vinyl is sorta ‘cool’ and I certainly don’t despise it, but I don’t think it’s very practical or functional. I would agree that the album cover is bigger which is better, but that does not necessarily make it better overall. I would also agree that the sound is more natural, but it is certainly comparable to an SACD or a DVD-A/Blu-ray audio (more than a CD) which in my opinion has better or as good sound quality but with more functionality.
    In truth, vinyl records are simply very overrated.

    • Anonymous

      I think people are buying vinyl because it’s the cool and “hipster” thing to do.

      • superduper

        Which, you’re right, is silly. Having said that I don’t think everybody does it because it is “hipster” or “cool.” I think a lot people generally like vinyl for the sound and the art.
        I’ve addressed the digital solutions to the sound, but for the art, I would say that if discs come in 7″ sleeves, like the size of vinyl singles, that could be cool. Of course, the disc cases would lose their compactness, but it would still be small enough to be relatively compact, but large enough to appreciate.
        FYI I’ve measured the size of CD vs vinyl and vinyl is roughly 3x as large as an average CD, so it’s pretty huge in comparison.

        • jw

          DVD-A or SACD is usually a 5.1 mix & you need a dvd drive. Hand most people a DVD-A or SACD & they probably would have no idea how to play it. And good luck finding anything you actually want to listen to on either of those formats.

          I’ve never heard anyone argue that DVD-A or SACD is convenient. Because they’re not.

          • superduper

            An SACD Hybrid does not require a DVD player because it also has a CD layer.
            Also, how in the heck is a DVD player more inconvenient? Especially when compared to vinyl?

          • jw

            So if you’re just listening to 16/44.1 then you lose the sonic advantage of the format.

            I suppose it varies from person to person, but pretty much everyone I known owns a turntable. And most people I know have 2.0 or 2.1 home theater. So you’re stuck listening to it in your living room, basically, & if that’s the case all the disadvantages of vinyl become non-issues.

            And then you have the fact that vinyl is currently being pressed, whereas dvd-a & sacd basically isn’t. I mean… that’s a pretty big inconvenience. lolol.

            I guess if you’re a baby boomer who hangs out with a bunch of old people who all bought into home theater, & if all you listen to is Rush & Eric Clapton & Bonnie Raitt, then dvd-a & sacd might meet all of your needs. But outside of that niche, it’s tremendously inconvenient.

            For me, vinyl at home & Spotify on the go is the ultimate marriage of quality & convenience.

          • superduper

            You’re point is flawed in a few ways. You are confusing convenience with availability. No, SACDs and DVD/Blu-ray-audio are not common, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be. Also, a CD player/DVD player is far easier to use than a turntable, and most people would know how to use it. You are also confusing how it is used (you don’t need a home theatre as you say) and you are stereotyping the audience and the type of music that they listen to. I’m sure a lot of people would be interested in high-quality digital audio.
            I would say that the argument that digital music is noticeable worse than analogue is an outdated argument. I would say that advancements in digital technology has vastly improved the sound quality of digital audio.

          • Anonymous

            The problem is you are talking about a field (music) that is sentimental in its core. Logic doesn’t apply.

          • superduper

            It’s not necessarily true, actually. There are clear benefits to both formats and I think it’s worthwhile to discuss all of them in a purely objective way.

            I personally don’t like vinyl and I find it very overrated. That doesn’t mean that people who like vinyl can’t enjoy it, I just think that vinyl shouldn’t become the ‘industry standard’ of sorts. Instead I advocate for a better version of a digital disc to compete with vinyl in terms of sound quality. Vinyl may be cool, but I can’t be the only one who sees the disadvantages to it.

          • Undroned

            Guess how much I could not care less about anything you say, Mr Advocate of another crappy format.

            One of the coolest things about vinyl is its existence as an object, inlcuding its size, the size of the artwork on both sides, and the size of the posters and stickers that it can hold. It offers more in that regard than any stupid cd can offer.

            I’m glad you’re finding an audience for your pointless blathering about how you think it’s overrated. Guess what, the cheeseburger was also very popular, and declining in popularity, but yet, people are still interested in them. Fascinating….

            VInyl was around when your grandparents still hadn’t met each other. It’s a historic reality. Who cares what you think? Don’t buy any. Good for you.

  8. NoIdea

    The other thing to consider is that used vinyl sales probably aren’t accounted for on the RIAA charts, since it doesn’t benefit their bottom line, but overall vinal sales are probably much higher from a retail perspective since vinyl fans will hunt down old/rare releases to buy and most major’s new releases aren’t issued on vinyl.

    Charts still show an industry in decline, but an interesting surge in a niche market.

  9. Edward Jennings

    The sales constraint is the lack of record pressing plants available.

  10. Anonymous

    Vinyl never went away, it has been thriving for many years, just not in the visibility of sound scan or other industry measuring tools. Its been thriving in small record stores for Independent labels who don’t care about charts, bar codes, getting a spot on iTunes front page. It has thrived with folks who make a living doing what they are passionate about and not for just for hipsters who have discovered that vinyl generally sounds warmer than digital files.

    The majors have so little vision that they think pressing Justin Bieber and Katy Perry vinyl will maintain their physical sales, but the vinyl “resurgence” debate is only eyes of those who monitor things via Big Champagne Amazon or wherever else they try to compile data. Nobody else who dives in crates at flea markets or who hunts for an elusive piece of wax on line cares about whether vinyl is going to save the physical music industry. Its a collectors market and a reissue market.

    A few years ago when Urban Outfitters saw the loss of culture as independent record stores closed, they decided to sell vinyl to take over that vacuum and get folks in their stores. They stocked the vinyl that was available, which was in shorter supply but much higher quality in terms of music. Now that the majors have been “resurgent” in the vinyl market, by taking over pressing plant capacity and offering physical retailers huge discounts, the bins are stacked with talent less artists and hipster independent bands who miss the whole point of what buying vinyl is all about.

  11. Anonymous

    The vinyl “resurgence” will be based on the ability of the Pressing plants, Distributors and Retailers to stay away from the Lords of music Industry and continue to do what they have always done.

    People do not buy vinyl because its cheap, user friendly or design friendly. Real vinyl buyers do not buy it because its suddenly cool. People who buy vinyl are passionate have huge collections and care about the artwork and want the larger formats. That is not enough to save the physical music industry or your job. Its not worth debating the sales of vinyl or comparing them to sales when ti was the only format available or the only choice of entertainment. There is no perspective to these charts, other than somebody knows where to get data and can use Excel.