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Once on the verge of extinction, vinyl records are again bringing music to old and young and avoiding the fate of the eight-track tape.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says vinyl sales in 2019 are on pace to outsell compact discs for the first time since 1986. Through the first half of the year, CDs accounted for $247.9 million in music sales to vinyl’s $224.1 million, but vinyl sales are up 13 percent from a year ago while CD sales are flat. What’s more, LPs are likely to finish the year ahead.
Still, the recording industry has largely moved beyond physical products.
RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier notes that 80 percent of music business revenues ($5.4 billion in the first half of 2019) are generated from streaming services, which now have more than 60 million paid subscriptions.
“The streaming economy continues to accelerate, strengthen and mature,” Glazier says. “Everywhere you look, our industry’s embrace of new technologies, approaches and platforms is paying off for artists, fans and everyone who loves great music.”
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The popularity of chart toppers today, like Chris Brown, Young Thug and Lil Nas X, is based almost exclusively on streamed songs and downloads, but as Phil Gallo, a coauthor of Record Store Days: Vinyl to Digital and Back, points out, vinyl has found a market niche.
“In September you had the rare occurrence where the top three albums were indeed selling albums — Tool, Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey,” he observes. “Individually, they tap into three of the key marketplaces: rock music, icon-related collectibles and indie rock.”
Gallo says vinyl has also become a “superfan” status for younger listeners. For older buyers, reissues of classic albums — many that never made it to vinyl in the 1990s — provide an opportunity to hear music with a better sound than the CD technology of the ’80s and ’90s. There has also been a rebirth of the record shop.