Vinyl is back in a big way, but what about vinyl vs CD sales? For the first time since 1986, vinyl is on track to outsell CDs. Vinyl records almost went extinct in the 1990s after the compact disc took over as the preferred media. Audiophiles and musicians, however, understand that vinyl offers 100% of the original sound whereas digital formats only offer a small percentage of the sound. It has been highly debated whether or not the human ear can tell the difference. Neil Young wrote a book called To Feel the Music: A Songwriter’s Mission to Save High-Quality Audio about his development of a portable music player called Pono that offers 90% of the original sound, while CD gives you 25% and streaming or MP3 only represents a measly 5%. In the book, Neil urges people to go back to vinyl instead of using Pono (no longer available), but he wanted to to offer something for people who will never purchase a turntable and start crate digging. There is also the fact that a vinyl record is a tangible object that you can hold in your hand or display on your wall, and the album art is large enough to appreciate. The entire concept of album art has almost disappeared in the streaming age because there is no place for it on a tiny phone screen.
In 2018, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported that the sales of vinyl alone was responsible four over 1/3 of total sales from physical albums. In 2019, the mid year gross sales of CDs was $248 million, and vinyl came in at $224 million. However, with the upward trend of record sales, we estimate that the total sales of CDs will be around $500 million and vinyl sales will slightly eclipse it at around $510 million by year’s end. So what genre of music are most people buying on vinyl? We spoke with the staff at Reckless Records in Chicago, and they said that classic rock is still the king. The Beatles typically sell over 300,000 vinyl records per year, while Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd usually sell over 100,000 annually. There was also a big increase in the sale of Queen vinyl in 2019 because of the film We Will Rock You. Younger fans are also embracing vinyl by choosing to pick up their favorite indie rock releases in that format, and events like Record Store Day help to get new blood into the record store. Revenue from streaming music subscriptions accounted for roughly 60% of total album sales in 2019, but it looks like vinyl might secure the number two spot for the years to come. Congrats to vinyl records on rebounding from extinction! Maybe scientists will clone a woolly mammoth someday soon.