Is It Over? Sales of Vinyl Records Down 9.1% In 2016…

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Are vinyl records slipping in 2016?  Fresh data from the RIAA shows a 9.1% drop during this first half of the year, at least for new product shipments in the United States.

Sales of vinyl records have been booming for more than ten years.  But now, there are signs that things might be cooling down.  According to data shared with Digital Music News by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), shipments of LPs and EPs are down 9% during the first half of 2016.

That follows signs of a cooling down in April, with Nielsen tracking slower increases over 2015.

Specifically, the RIAA counted shipments of 8.4 million LPs and EPs during the first half of this year, with an associated revenue value of $207.1 million.  During the same point in 2015, sales were at 9.2 million, with associated revenues of $221.1 million, a 9.1% drop in terms of unit sales.

When measured by shipment revenues, which specifically refers to the wholesale price collected from retailers, the drop is a less serious 6.3%.

Vinyl Records Down 9.1 Percent In US H1 2016
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(Source: RIAA; in $millions)

The decline is part of an across-the-board decline in physical music sales.  In fact, not one physical format — CD, LP, or EP — grew during the period, according to the RIAA.  Overall, physical sales slipped 12.0 percent by units during the period, dragged heavily by CDs.

Niche, higher-end formats like SACD and DVD Audio are now effectively dead, though incoming streaming platforms like TIDAL may be scratching the hi-end itch.

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Back to the vinyl records resurgence, the question is whether this is just a statistical blip.  Or, a mere tree in the forest.  Indeed, even bull markets have their ups and downs, which makes it hard to draw firm conclusions or projections from just six months of data.

Perhaps the past few years have been so explosive, it’s simply time for things to cool off.

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And looking at the past decade, sales of vinyl records have been outright meteoric after being left for dead just ten years ago.  Here’s a quick look at the stunning revival in vinyl records that started in the mid-2000s.


Vinyl Sales 1973-2015
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The full RIAA first half report can be found here.

31 Responses

  1. Nicky Knight's thoughts..

    Vinyl and CD’s may be down but the Philips compact audio cassette is up..

    Vinyl is a costly & cumbersome format to prepare and manufacture with time
    consuming procedures and long factory waiting times.. and it’s heavy to
    mail-out and store..

    The Philips Compact Audio Cassette is quick to prepare and manufacture/duplicate, small and light in size and very ideal for the mail-order fan supported indy labels.

    Do a search in google under “the rise of the audio cassette” and you’ll soon discover
    it’ back with a vengeance.

  2. Anonymous

    According to Nielsen Soundscan, vinyl album sales are up 13% vs. the first 37 weeks of 2015. A decline in shipments may mean fewer new releases or vinyl re-issues than in 2015. With the overall market down almost 18%, not only are vinyl sales up over last year, they are beating the market by more than 30%.

    • Michael Fremer

      thanks for making sense and informing people who don’t know how to deal with statistics.

    • Adam Humber

      There is good reason. Vinyl is not Vinyl. Reissues are CD’s pressed in crappy plastic. Why buy a reissue pressed from the last digital master? Its makes no sense. That is not analog. The Hipsters are stupid and have crappy equipment so they dont notice. But hipsters also have limited funds. Those who like to buy music are faced with poor digitally mastered reissue LP’s = NO … or brickwalled CD’s with no dynamics … again NO. Record companies sontinue to shoot themselves with crappy product. Stop mixing everything at max volume. Stop mastering clipped garbage. Even big league stuff like Adele, her last CD is badly clipped. A real shame.

      Of course there is the other element. Anyone can record an album now. There has never been more poo on the shelves then today. Every late night show = welcome fat bearded hipsters with nothing to offer. hipster band of the day that sings like panting little dogs and cant play …. fat lady with a big mouth and guy with banjo shaped guitar … etc etc.

      Music is in a sorry state because of one reason .. QUALITY

  3. Anonymous

    People finally realized that vinyl just doesn’t sound as good as digital…

      • Cataville

        I agree, Vinyls needs a good system for best play back. Most of the crap entry level turntables are terrible. A turntable needs to have a magnetic cartridge for best sound and a good needle. Most people don’t know how great the sound is, and that’s a shame.

    • Michael Fremer

      No. You just haven’t woken up yet. Vinyl sounds way better than digital, especially MP3s, but also CDs. I’ve been comparing CDs to records since 1986 and records always sound better. and that includes ones played for decades.

      • Matt

        This is utterly ridiculous. There is not a single vinyl title – anywhere – that is capable of sounding as good as a properly transferred and mixed CD. The format is inherently inferior. Some 70s vinyl titles do sound better than any CD issue of the same title, due to poorly-transferred early CD releases, and brickwalled “remastered” releases. There are a ton of crummy-sounding CD titles out there, but none of them had to sound that way. And in the presence of a well-engineered CD, it blows the vinyl out of the water, even if you give the vinyl playback system a $25,000 head start.

        • Lou

          We could argue the point around the clock. Your never going to convince a vinyl fan and we never you. I could rename the story “The economy has a downturn” and it would fit vinyl sales. It’s ALL music having a downturn as increased costs are taking away deposable income. I’m not knocking cd’s they have their place like cookouts, and riding in your car. We can’t carry crates of vinyl but you can carry 20 cds no problem. It’s not all or nothing most vinyl guys like me still have our cds. If I’m home I play vinyl and I have a technics turntable, a marantz tuner, and B & W speakers and their not 25k try 1k at best. If we got a passion for vinyl how does that hurt you? Go to Walmart, Best Buy and Target and it’s loaded with cds till the cows come home love your cds. Maybe it’s kids being old school or us old guys reliving our glory days.

        • Jamie Anderson

          Fremer is like a broken record – nothing he says is supported by facts or logic.

        • Joe

          Absolutely agree. A good cd pressing on a decent system sounds amazing.

  4. Cataville

    Vinyl sales are up over last year. The RIAA’s numbers are for new units produced and shipped. The vinyl production industry has been in a severe backlog for years, however new plants are coming online and existing plants are adding more presses and shifts to handle the demand. Millions of new LP’S & 45’s are out at retailers already. So any thought of the vinyl boom being over is nonsense. lets wait and see 2016’s numbers in Janurary. Also their are many retailers that don’t report to Nielson Soundscan. So the real new vinyl sales numbers is never known. Many record label’s are working on putting more product out. You have to produce what’s selling and what will make them money. CD’s however will be gone in a couple of years.

    • SL

      Cd will never be down . Too much of them as been sold since the 80s’ and they actually sound even better than anything else being played in audiophile CD player .

  5. danwriter

    Key phrase here: “…even bull markets have their ups and downs, which makes it hard to draw firm conclusions or projections from just six months of data.”
    Combined with the reader-suppled information that sales have actually increased, and the fact that a large percentage of vinyl transactions take place below the reporting radar, we get a big yawn here.

  6. Eric

    Nice graphical representation at the bottom. Puts the “surge” in perspective. Do you have that same data in units? The $/unit is definitely higher today (even after an inflation correction), which would tend to make that bump at the end more dramatic than it seems. Also I would love to see some worldwide numbers.

  7. Anonymous

    maybe the major labels will finally stop raising prices if they see these numbers, 2014 was huge for vinyl sales and there have been 3 price increases from the majors since which are definitely responsable for the drop in sales. No record should retail over $24

  8. stever

    Well if the content being released is crap / non existent, that would be part of the problem. July 2016 alone could account for a 9% drop.

  9. Ton

    The numbers mentioned are far from realistic. The numbers pressed around 2000 were still about 200 – 250 million (worldwide). Lowest point was 7 to 8 years ago (40 mil), this year aprox 100 million. Not all of these are sold, but at least 90% is.

  10. Jeff

    What annoys me is that used vinyl does not factor into these calculations.

  11. Bill Adams

    I read this piece and it got me thinking — are physical formats really on a downturn? I looked at the numbers and began to clue in — the numbers are for pop music sales right? How many pop releases have really captured the public’s imagination this year? David Bowie’s final album did, and the first vinyl pressing of blackstar was sold out in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada on pre-orders alone. check the numbers, that’s a fact. How many other quality releases have been unleashed on pop audiences this year? Pop numbers always thrive on new and exciting releases coming from labels with the financial wherewithal to get it where people can see and hear it, how many of those have there been so far this year?

    While you think about that, also question how many vinyl reissues have been made available in 2016. On first thought, all of Bowie’s catalogue, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, the biggest four albums by The Dixie Chicks, even Bringing Down The Horse by The Wallflowers and Kate Fagan’s only single have all been reissued on vinyl this year; that’s great, but reissues NEVER sell as well as new music because they already have a set audience, so what are we really measuring?

    Facts are facts. If the music industry’s complaining that they’re not making as much money, perhaps they should do what they used to do best: foster new talent and help it capture the imagination of an audience. You know, like they used to do before digital made sales simple, but also easily exhaustible.

  12. Eric

    RIAA and soundscan have under reported vinyl sales for years. We produce 2m units of vinyl finished goods each year and there is NO way we make up 25% of the market. eric / furnace mfg