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Vinyl revenue overtakes CDs for the first time since 1986

Rega Planar 2
(Image credit: Rega)

The RIAA's year-end report on the state of the US music industry shows that revenue from vinyl sales has overtaken that of CDs for the first time in 35 years.

Sales of the classic record format in the US have increased consistently since 2006, but last year it saw its biggest single week since electronic sales tracking began (in 1991), with 1.841 million vinyl albums sold in the week ending 24th December, according to the MRC data.

Overall, vinyl sales in 2020 grew by 28.7 per cent to $626 million, while CD sales continued their long term decline, falling by 23 per cent to $483 million. 

The last time vinyl triumphed over CDs was in 1986. That year, though, the cassette was king, making up 54 per cent of all albums sold, and the biggest releases included  Janet Jackson’s Control, Madonna’s True Blue and Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling – each sold three million physical copies – not forgetting the soundtrack to Miami Vice which sold four million. 

By contrast, this year's top vinyl albums were Harry Styles’ Fine Line with 232,000 sales and Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? with 196,000 sales.

Despite the challenges to traditional retail from COVID-19 restrictions, total income from physical products managed to stay virtually flat at $1.1 billion (down 0.5 per cent) – impressive considering that just over 12 months ago, Amazon took a hiatus from restocking CDs while it prioritised essential goods in the US and UK.

Total music revenues grew 9.2 per cent in 2020 to $12.2 billion – the fifth consecutive year of steady growth for the industry – driven primarily by streaming services, which accounted for 83 per cent of total earnings, with numbers of paid subscriptions reaching a record high of 75.5 million.

Meanwhile, sales of digital downloads, the format formerly known as the death knell of CDs, dropped by 13 per cent to $320 million, accounting for only 6 per cent of total recorded music revenues.

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