Vinyl Is Back On Top

Written by Rob Stott

March 10, 2023

vinyl turntable record player RIAA

To quote perhaps the greatest worst boss of all time: “Well, well how the turn tables.” It’s a line that stands out among so many fantastic one-liners from The Office. And in the context of what the music industry is currently experiencing, it’s a line that fits so perfectly.

According to the latest music industry revenue report published by the Recording Industry Association of America, the turntable, or, more specifically the vinyl that spins on it, has completed its comeback. RIAA, which is probably best-known for hosting its annual music awards event – the GRAMMYs — regularly publishes data on music sales in the U.S. And this year’s report, which summarized recorded music revenue from 2022, brought some long awaited news for the audiophile community.

For the first time since 1987, consumers purchased more vinyl records than they did compact discs, or CDs, as the kids call them. In 2022, there were roughly 42 million vinyl records sold, up slightly from ’21 but the highest figure achieved since the early ‘90s. On the other end, CDs saw a big drop-off in sales last year at just 34 million units, down roughly 40 percent from ‘21. Both figures pale in comparison to each format’s heyday — vinyl peaked at about 550 million units in the late 1970s with CDs reaching nearly 1 billion unit sales around 2000 — but it’s a moment in time that feels like a real validation of vinyl’s comeback arc.

In the face of a virtual culture shift in the way consumers get their music, vinyl has continued to experience this strong resurgence. In fact, since 2010, vinyl sales have grown anywhere between 9 and over 50 percent year-over-year. It’s the only physical music platform that didn’t dip into the negative at any point during that span.

Alongside the continued growth in vinyl sales, consumers have also been on the hunt for turntables to spin those LPs on. The number of turntables sold in the U.S. has increased every year since 2012, hitting 82,000 units sold in 2021.

What’s even more interesting — and encouraging, from the retail perspective — is that this trend back towards physical music, and the vinyl category in particular, has been driven by younger consumers. According to RIAA’s data, 35 percent of new vinyl purchasers were between the ages of 18-34. Plus, just look at what artists’ vinyl records topped the charts last year: Taylor Swift (her Midnights album accounted for 1 in every 25 vinyls sold), Harry Styles, Olivia Rodrigo and Bad Bunny. Further, data from Luminate showed that Gen Z listeners spend 18 percent more on music than the average U.S. consumer.

Mature Taste in Music

Artist names like that probably make the biggest audiophile’s head spin faster than their Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable. But what we can deduce from all that data is that vinyl is back and, thanks to those younger listeners, it appears to be here to stay this time. For as convenient as streaming audio might be on the road and in the gym, younger consumers are learning that higher-fidelity audio provides a much better listening experience. They’re learning to appreciate those vinyl records and the turntables and speakers required to reproduce their favorite artist’s tracks as they were meant to be listened to.

We’ve opened the door to the next generation of audiophiles.

It may start as a “fad,” but if these younger consumers can build an appreciation for better sound quality, that first album could be a gateway to a lifelong hobby. And, as a retailer, that creates a pathway for you to step in and be their go-to resource for everything from the entry level turntable all the way up to those floor-standing speakers.

The sustained success of vinyl over the past decade should also have you thinking about ways you can get your community excited about the category while bringing them into your store. Maybe it’s a launch-and-listening party for the next big record drop. Or, perhaps, there’s an opportunity to educate those vinyl-newbies on what a true audiophile listening experience is like. Use these numbers to your advantage and create some lifelong customers in the process.


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