Vinyl Now Makes One-Third of the Money in Physical Music

For the third year in a row, the U.S. recorded music business in 2018 was graced with double-digit growth mainly due to the boom of subscription music streaming, according to numbers released Thursday by the Recording Industry Association of America. The annual report, which tracks sales across digital and physical platforms, found that paid streaming continues to be the biggest driver of growth for the music business while CD sales revenue have hit a 32-year low.

Revenues from recorded music overall grew 12 percent from 2017 to 2018, reaching $9.8 billion at estimated retail value. Streaming revenues comprised $7.4 billion, or 75 percent, of that figure, with subscriptions (e.g. Apple Music and Spotify’s paid tier) contributing the bulk of that. “You can feel rising excitement and optimism within the halls of the record labels, and it’s a moment worth celebrating,” said RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier in a statement accompanying the report. “Tremendous output from the artist community fueled a historic milestone of 50 million subscriptions to music services, which in turn helped drive U.S. music’s third consecutive year of double-digit growth.”

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Glazier also called the sustained revenue increases — which stand in contrast to the two decades of steadily slipping sales that the music industry had to weather before things finally began turning around in 2016 — a sign that the business “has embraced the future and found a healthy path forward in the digital economy.”

The words to note there are “future” and “digital.” Per the RIAA, revenue from shipments of physical products last year fell to $1.15 billion, a 23 percent drop from 2017, and CD revenue in particular fell 34 percent; CDs made $698 million last year, marking the first time that format has reported sub-billion-dollar revenue since 1986. Vinyl is the only thing that continues to be an odd bright spot, increasing 8 percent in that same period, to $419 million, which is the highest number for the category since 1988. That means that by value, vinyl is now making up more than one-third of physical music revenue.

Such trends are, in part, a reflection of listeners’ preferences, but they’re also a result of decisions made by the music industry itself: As fewer people buy albums on CDs, record labels begin producing fewer CDs, focusing their efforts on digital releases. Similarly, vinyl will keep its production numbers up as long as nostalgic turntable fans continue seeking it out.

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