Vinyl Revival Not All It Seems

By Hans Dinkelberg (Flickr: The record shop) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

CDs and vinyl are outselling digital downloads in the US for the first time since 2011. That’s something of a misleading statistic however.

The figures come from the Recording Industry Association of America and aim to cover all revenue derived from recorded music. They only cover money that comes directly from customers, so don’t include royalties from traditional radio broadcasts or licensing fees.

Recorded music as a whole is picking up as a business: the revenues for 2017 were $8.7 billion, up from $7.5 billion in 2016 and $6.7 billion in 2015.

To say physical products overtook digital downloads (reversing what once seemed like an inevitable shift with the rise of the iPod) is a bit of a stretch. In fact both categories declined – it’s just that physical products only declined by four percent. There was a small shift in format, with CDs down a little and vinyl up a little, despite average record prices increasing.

Rather than people deciding to buy CDs or records in place of MP3s, what’s really happened is that people are shifting from buying digital music towards subscribing to streaming services — plus streaming has attracted people who’d otherwise not spend any money on music. The RIAA says that at an average point in 2017, 35.3 million Americans had a paid music subscription, up from 22.7 million in 2016 and 10.8 million in 2014.

Streaming now makes up 65 percent of all recorded music revenue with physical media at 17 percent and digital downloads at 15 percent.

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