Vinyl sales reach 1980s levels

But streaming eats into musicians' profits

Vinyl player

Musicians are making more from vinyl sales than at any time since 1988, with 17 million records sold last year in the US alone.

With sales up 28% on 2014, they accounted for 6% of the overall retail music market, and one in five of all 'physical' sales.

The top selling record was Adele's '25', which sold 116,000 copies, followed by Taylor Swift's '1989', with 74,000.

"Many people ask us why vinyl is having such a resurgence. It's tough to pinpoint just one reason," say Josh Friedlander and Cara Duckworth Weiblinger of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

"We know that for some, owning vinyl is a way to connect with their favourite music and artists in a more direct and tangible way than digital media. Plus it's a cool collector's item that music enthusiasts want to own."

In addition, many people believe that vinyl gives a much warmer sound than digital formats.

Revenues from vinyl albums were $416 million in 2015 - and, as RIAA chairman and CEO Cary Sherman points out, this is actually more than the industry made through ad-supported, on-demand services such as YouTube and Spotify.

"Last year, 17 million vinyl albums, a legacy format enjoying a bit of a resurgence, generated more revenues than billions and billions of on-demand free streams: $416 million compared to $385 million for on-demand free streams," he says.

Worryingly for musicians, he says, the number of music streams is sky-rocketing - but the money earned from them isn't.

"This is why we, and so many of our music community brethren, feel that some technology giants have been enriching themselves at the expense of the people who actually create the music," he says.

"We call this the 'value grab' — because some companies take advantage of outdated, market-distorting government rules and regulations to either pay below fair-market rates, or avoid paying for that music altogether."

And while the news on vinyl may be good, streaming is eating into CD sales, which are down by 11% on 2014; meanwhile, sales of digital albums fell by 3%, and individual digital tracks by 12%.

2015 Vinyl sales (source Nielsen/Billboard)
1. Adele, 25 - 116,000
2. Taylor Swift, 1989 - 74,000
3. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon - 50,000
4. Beatles, Abbey Road - 50,000
5. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue - 49,000
6. Arctic Monkeys, AM - 48,000
7. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell - 45,000
8. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color - 45,000
9. Hozier, Hozier - 43,000
10. Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy - 43,000

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