What the Vinyl Records Comeback Really Looks Like…

How strong is the vinyl records comeback?  That really depends on your perspective.

Last year, vinyl revenues hit an astounding $422.3 million in the US alone, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).  That’s a vinyl comeback that was unthinkable ten years ago, especially after nearly 15 years of near-constant decline.

Accordingly, this is the chart that most people reference when the speak of the explosive vinyl resurgence (source: RIAA; scale also in millions of dollars):

As you can see, the vinyl market was basically irrelevant in 2005, and considered a virtually dead format.  Sure, there were niche audiophiles who savored the warm, vinyl sound back then, but most of those aficionados were buying used LPs.  Part of the reason for that was simple nostalgia, but the other was simply that labels weren’t producing new records anymore.  They’d given up.

Make no mistake: used LPs are a huge part of the current market today, and not accurately factored into current statistics and growth models.  That said, this is a vinyl records resurgence that will soon include used product, new product, and enhanced, HD vinyl within a matter of years.  Just recently, Rebeat filed patents around its HD vinyl records technology, one that streamlines the entire manufacturing process while delivering a fuller, longer-playing LP (more on HD vinyl, here).

(And, for more on just how much used vinyl is being purchased these days, read this report).

And just how big will this vinyl keep growing?  By comparison, in 1978, vinyl sales hit $2.78 billion, according to the RIAA’s inflation-adjusted figures.  But that’s where predictions get extremely difficult: back in the late-70s, vinyl and 8-tracks were pretty much the only way to listen to pre-recorded music, with digital downloads and streaming unthinkable experiences for nearly twenty years.

Fast-forward to 2016, and studies are now showing that streaming actually helps to propel vinyl purchases, with overall music listening at an all-time high.  All of which makes this market almost completely unchartered territory.

18 Responses

  1. Versus

    I love vinyl, and CD, and hi-resolution digital.

    One correction: “back in the late-70s, vinyl and 8-tracks were pretty much the only way to listen to pre-recorded music, with digital an unthinkable experience for nearly twenty years”

    Twenty years? Digital in the form of CD-players appeared already in 1982.

      • FarePlay

        8 tracks were gone in the 70’s. Maybe you could find them in truck stops in Texas.

  2. homer bear viewing trips

    There are many things mentioned in this article I would not have thought of on my own. This material is inspirational, interesting and it allows the readers to open up their minds to original thinking.

  3. Nicky Knight

    Vinyl was a great physical medium as it was tactile, had artwork, had credits and you could build a very tangible collection.

    Then of course CDs and the Digital transformation occurred..

    So much of the vinyl sales of today are of heritage releases from the 70s and other periods.. There’s some new stuff also but I suspect mostly major label product like Bowie, White, Hendrix etc..

    The majors are also the ones using up the capacity of the vinyl pressing plants and it’s making it very hard and costly for the independents to be part of the vinyl race..

    So along comes the Philips Audio Cassette..

    Fast turn around times

    low cost preparation and setup fees

    Has many of the physical benefits of vinyl

    Sales are up ~ 30% year on year

    There’s a burgeoning mail-order scene of cassette only (micro) labels distributing
    direct to music audio cassette fans..

  4. Sakis Gouzonis

    No matter what they do, vinyl, cassetttes, and CDs will never be relevant again. Music is now available on major legal websites for free.

  5. asdf

    Vinyl nerds drive me insane, and I used to be a vinyl-only club DJ.

    Why devote yourself to a physical medium that is fragile and degrades every time you use it, has limited frequency response, weighs a ton, is bigger than a dinner plate, requires costly equipment to enjoy, and costs more than a CD during that medium’s most expensive years in the late 90’s.

    I really don’t get it.

    • David Carbines

      You describe the level of dedication to enjoy that listening experience. And that in it’s self is enough. By comparison, any digital format listening experience feels very flat and uninvolving. The ritual itself is an experience. I find vinyl less fragile than a tablet, the per-use degradation is pretty minor. The frequency response is down to the mastering, same as any format (physical, digital-physical, or digital only file). The current LPs cost less in real-terms than one in the 1950s. OK, so a 90s CD would cost a £20, todays LP £16-25 non-deluxe version. LPs today are a premium product and often contain the budget product as part of the package (CD or download). And if you buy as a consumer to listen at home the product is likely to get less abuse than as a jobbing club DJ, primarily because of the environment.

    • tea

      It’s about the music, man! The music is IN the vinyl, don’t you see? You can see your SOUL!! It spins in a circle, it’s an elecrtical connection.

      And you can use the LP sleeve to roll your own doobies!

  6. Nicky Knight

    It’s not really about the awkwardness or cumbersome and troublesome nature of manufacturing physical recordings whether it be CDs, Vinyl or Cassettes..

    What you’re doing is making an artifact that music fans and collectors can hold, touch, feel, look at, read the credit notes, marvel at the artwork and maybe, just maybe they’ll pop it in the player and listen to the audio content.

    It’s almost a specially made musical trinket or gadget that fans hopefully will want to buy, a bit like memorabilia.

    Now of course the downside of manufacturing such things are:

    1. Cost of preparation (Artwork, masters etc)
    2. Cost of manufacturing including printing of artwork covers, labels as well as
    cost of recorded disc/cassette.
    3. Warehousing (takes up space in your spare room or cupboards..)
    4. Distribution (finding a distribution provider willing to take it on and account back to you)
    5. Retailers/shops willing to place orders with the distributors and hopefully not return all the stock 12 months later for full credit..
    6. Direct selling via Internet and Mail-Order to the music buying fans and bypassing the distributor and retailer.

    The Philips Compact Audio Cassette is a perfect size for a Mail-Order Direct to Fan music label..

    For quirky experimental electronic music that isn’t aimed at the mass pop market, then cassette might actually do better than trying to garner sales on iTunes or streams on Spotify as millions of tracks on iTunes have zero popularity… it’s more and more about the blockbuster and if you’re not a blockbuster then you’re just sitting there with nil popularity.

    So Digital distribution isn’t always where the money is… if you offer something
    outside of the general equation and make it seemingly special “limited edition”
    then you could be surprised with the results.

  7. Marvin Gershowitz

    <<– most of the music today is ENTERTAINMENT ARTS which is to say a return to Entertainment that show cases in ACTIONS a Spectacular VISUAL with drama, pathos, thrills, and a easy to remember tune.

    As such the MUSIC can do all the illusion on BLACK PIECE OF VINYL without a picture or motion to interfere with our IMAGINATIONS.

    I am not against ENTERTAINMENT ART, but it take the WORK of a GENIUS to create some thought without visual… that's the MUSIC I LOVE and it can and does come from all types of writers and players and sometimes even out of the WORKS of the Entertainment ARTS! – – marv. imho

    • Marvin Gershowitz

      “Without a Canvas that is REMARKABLE to the ART FORM, then you have no where to etch your Masterpieces.”

      Marvin Gershowitz (1953 – 2016 or longer)

  8. N.Black

    Pretty good article. I already knew most of this stuff having been a non- stop record collector since my youth. Just paying attention to the music world and trends and such. I found something cool the other day. Nora Jones has released a new album, one of the options for purchase was an special edition pressed on orange vinyl. I’m happy that all the different mediums are available. It doesn’t need to go away as long as they’re are people to appreciate it. I do struggle however to find a place to store all these damn records! The comments were hilarious btw.

  9. Chris

    Despite the nostalgic view, a shift towards vinyl records doesn’t seem to have only a nostalgic nature. According to polls, the largest audience consists of young people under the age of 25, who have no pre- digital era experiences to reminisce. Their selections from the shelves focus on new bands. Then again the shift to vinyl cannot be explained only by sound quality criteria. Even if we assumed that it was indeed better, its audience is no high-fidelity fans buying classic and jazz re-issues, but youngsters listening to Heavy Metal, Hip Hop, Punk & Electronic. Finally, this is no strategic marketing move of the companies, but comes from below, as the independent or underground profile of the stores, releases, and alternative distribution networks suggest. So, this medium (vinyl record) sends out its own strong message….