The History of Vinyl Records
Emile Berliner recorded the world’s first album in 1889. However, it wasn’t until 1930 that long-playing records became available to the general public. This first introduction by RCA Victor failed due to the following factors:
- High cost
- Lack of reliable, supporting technology for playback
- The economic fallout of the Great Depression
- Consumer distrust
In the late 1930s, music engineers went back to the drawing board to give long-playing records another try. This move was spearheaded by Columbia Records. It took roughly a decade to create a final product that would become commercially viable.
Vinyl records statistics show that, during this time, RCA Victor was also working on bringing vinyl records into the market. This led to a fierce rivalry between the two companies with competing formats. It lasted from 1948 to 1950. Ultimately, Columbia Records’ long-play record beat out RCA Victor’s extended-play record.
In 1955, the record industry got a boost from a focus on creating and improving stereo sound. By 1957, the music industry succeeded in finding a way to cut and play back this new innovation in sound technology. Now that the industry had mostly worked out its kinks, consumers became more willing to test it.
This led to a sales growth that began in the early 1960s and continued into 1980. After 1980, the compact disk took over, and sales began to plummet for two and a half decades. Then, in 2005, renewed interest revived the vinyl record industry.
Vinyl Records Trends
In September of 2020, CNN reported vinyl records statistics that showed vinyl records finally outselling CDs for the first time — ever. The compact disk has been on its way out of the market for some time, but to be surpassed by the technology it replaced is mind-blowing.
One potential reason for this is that vinyl didn’t originally die down because of reduced consumer demand. Instead, the music industry recognized that it could make more money selling CDs. It then restructured its relationship with music vendors to make it unprofitable and risky for them to sell vinyl records instead of CDs.
Now, CNBC reports a year-over-year sale increase of 18.5%. In spite of record numbers, music industry experts believe the estimates are understated. This is because the official numbers often do not include data from the following sources:
- Sales from band websites
- Sales made on tour
- Second-hand sales
- Independent record stores sales
It is also worth noting that selling vinyl records is a lucrative business for musicians. In fact, one New York Post article alleged that musicians made more from selling vinyl records than from publishing music on streaming services. After all, vinyl records offer the perfect intersection between merch and music.
Vinyl records statistics show it is also lucrative for sellers. In fact, many people who buy vinyl records do so because they believe the value will continue to rise. CNBC reports that vinyl record prices climbed by 490%, but it is not clear whether this accounts for inflation. This is great news for collectors and sellers, but it may be bad news for buyers who are just getting into the market or want to expand their collections.
Vinyl Records Sales Around the World
According to Statista’s vinyl records statistics, America leads global sales of vinyl records, and the numbers continue to climb. Americans bought 2.8 million vinyl records in 2010, but they bought 13 million records in 2016 and 18.8 million in 2019. The countries next in line include the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Germany. Sales around the world have continued to trend upwards for 14 years in a row and are generating record profits for all parties involved.
Vinyl Records Market Share
Despite currently climbing to new heights, vinyl records occupy a niche market. For the first six months of 2020, the music industry generated a total of $5.7 billion. A whopping $4.8 billion of that money came from digital streaming services, which works out to roughly 85% of the market share. Vinyl records, in comparison, accounted for $232.1 million of music sales. When it comes to physical albums, however, vinyl records take 26% of the market.
Vinyl Records Demographics
People who were teenagers in the ‘80s and ‘90s represent the largest demographic purchasing vinyl records. Vinyl records statistics show that this group accounts for roughly 45% of the market. People who were 55 years and older were no more likely to have vinyl records than millennials between 24 and 35. The fact that the internet generation plays a role in the resurgence of vinyl record sales is almost surreal.
Ironically, younger people who buy vinyl records may not actually listen to them. For many, they still listen to the digital formats but hold on to vinyl records for sentimental reasons. In fact, vinyl records statistics from BBC show that only 52% of people who buy vinyl records have a record player and use it regularly. In the survey, 7% of respondents did not even own a turntable.
Vinyl Records Outlook
Music industry experts believe vinyl record sales will continue to grow. However, Billboard.com believes outdated supporting technology may hinder it from more exponential growth. Despite promising vinyl record statistics, experts do not believe vinyl records will ever rival streaming. What is surprising is that the pandemic barely had any effect on vinyl records statistics or sales.
Vinyl Records Genres
When looking for vinyl records from new artists, buyers may mostly come across rock bands. However, the popularity of specific genres varies across countries. For instance, in Germany, the renewed interest in vinyl records came from techno and rave, not rock music. Meanwhile, in Britain, alternative rock and Brit-pop led to its vinyl records revival.
In America, rock contributed to the return of vinyl records. Billboard.com identified the following bands as the biggest drivers of sales:
- Panic! at the Disco
- The Beatles
- David Bowie
- Pink Floyd
New Versus Vintage Vinyl Records
Of the most popular bands contributing to the vinyl comeback in America, three are old classics. This is because reissues of these classics make up the bulk of purchases. Is it better to purchase these reissues and vinyl records from newer artists, or should people focus more on building vintage collections? That may depend on the budget.
Because the second-hand classics market is lucrative for sellers, it is pricey for buyers. One buyer in Britain paid £15,990 (roughly US $21,351.45) for a Sex Pistols vinyl record. People who want to build a vintage collection should keep the following pointers in mind:
- Vinyl records with big sales volumes when originally released are less rare and so less expensive.
- Punk rock records are among the rarest and most valuable vinyl records.
- First-pressing vinyl records tend to rank among the most expensive, but buyers can get big discounts by buying reissued records or second-pressings.
- Focus more on the intrinsic value of the artist and less on the monetary value of the vinyl record.
Colored Versus Black Vinyl
Most people think of a black disk when picturing vinyl records. This is the classic look that traditional purists tend to prefer. For people who view the physical packaging of the vinyl record as part of the artform, colored vinyl may look more attractive. From a functional perspective, both types of vinyl records work the same. However, black vinyl requires adding a black plastic, which aids with the durability of the record.
Vinyl Records Tech and Equipment
Billboard.com shares that companies have not revised or innovated the technology used to create disks, record audio and play them. This is changing, but it has not grown by the leaps and bounds of other modern technology so far. Finding the talent to staff recording and manufacturing teams can also become difficult.
When it comes to production, vinyl records statistics show that five pressing plants dominate the market. Together, these companies create 160 million vinyl records. This represents roughly 67% of the market. As the demand for vinyl records increased, they also increased production tactics. They managed to do so successfully, changing the wait time from four months to six weeks.
The decreased wait time may come with some quality issues. Some music aficionados complain that scratched and warped disks make it off the production line too often. Buyers need flat and quiet pressing to ensure good sound quality that can rival professionally mastered digital music.
Unfortunately, very few companies have tackled an underlying environmental issue. The record-pressing process is not sustainable. It uses a lot of power and steam. Records are also now made from PVC, a suspected carcinogen that several countries may ban over the next few years.
Where To Buy Vinyl Records
Indie vinyl record stores are popping up all across the world, both online and off. Buyers of older vinyl records also search thrift stores and antique shops for good finds. Vinyl records statistics show that Amazon commands most of the market at 40%.
Best Buy discontinued its sale of CDs several years ago, but it remains the second-most popular choice among American consumers for buying vinyl records. Barnes & Noble began selling vinyl records several years ago, as well. Other common options include Target, eBay, flea markets and swap meets.
Vinyl Records Versus CDs
CDs are already becoming obsolete and will continue this trend in the music industry. In the first half of 2020, CD revenue dropped by 48%. Meanwhile, revenue from vinyl records climbed by 4%. Compact disks remain popular in some segments, such as with gaming companies, but even they are transitioning into digital downloads.
Ironically, one of the reasons CDs became obsolete was because they became too expensive, in the end. Even independent labels could end up selling albums that cost almost $20. Ultimately, it was easier to stream music. While vinyl records are often more expensive than CDs, people do not buy them solely for functional reasons.
Vinyl Records Versus Streaming
When people stream music, they don’t own it. It’s a lot like borrowing a book from a library, but with fewer restrictions. Some subscription services allow listeners to purchase the music and store it on their device, but they generally cannot give or sell that purchased track to someone else, so ownership is a questionable idea here, too.
When music lovers purchase a vinyl record, they own it, and it has a resale value that outpaces all other music formats. This makes vinyl records a much better financial investment, albeit a far more expensive one.
Frequently Asked Questions About Vinyl Records
Do vinyl records sound better than digital music and CDs?
People who have never listened to vinyl often believe the sound quality is poorer because of older technology. Vinyl record lovers believe the opposite is true. Digital music is more compressed and sounds “clean.” Vinyl records preserve the authenticity and variations in sound quality. Some listeners believe this brings the music alive more than digital options do.
Why do smaller indie bands need vinyl record sales?
The music industry took a nosedive when consumers stopped buying CDs and turned to online streaming and pirating. Key players in the market then found ways to monetize streaming. Big music brands with large fan bases do just fine with the small per-play payouts on Spotify because of the sheer volume of plays. However, smaller bands don’t have that traction and need more money upfront. Vinyl records provide an excellent way to make this happen.
How much music can you fit on a vinyl record?
Depending on how manufacturers cut the record, vinyl records may hold anywhere from 15 to 22 minutes per side. This works out to 30 to 45 minutes of playing time in total. The length of the album recorded also plays a role in the final product.
Does the thickness of the vinyl record make a difference?
Buyers may have to spend some time handling records before they start to recognize a difference in thickness, but some labels do provide this information. Most vinyl record lovers who consider themselves audiophiles have a preference for 180-gram vinyl. The thicker the vinyl, the longer it lasts. Note that even thick vinyl degrades over time. The more often someone plays a record, the more the quality degrades.
What does it mean when music aficionados say vinyl records are analog?
Analog recordings have one continuous signal that is modified by variations in the grooves cut into the vinyl. Put simply, the sounds come from physical cues embodied in pressed vinyl records that turntables know how to read.
Are reissued vinyl records as good as the classics?
Because of the high prices of some classic vinyl records, music lovers turn to reissued records to get the same record at a lower price. Unfortunately, this may lead to sacrificing the sound quality. Sometimes, it is just not possible to get the original recording. To get around this, engineers may create vinyl records from CDs. This often leads to inferior sound with none of the acoustic benefits of vinyl records.
How do music lovers choose the right turntable?
Some people have the amazing privilege of dusting off an old record player to bring their vinyl records to life. They may find these players in their grandparents’ homes or pick them up at thrift stores and antique shops. However, these can be more complex to service and create sound systems for.
Because of this, modern turntables have exploded in the market. These often feature built-in speakers that may even have Bluetooth connectivity. While all-in-one turntables are tempting, we do not recommend them. Instead, check out stand-alone, budget-friendly options. After purchasing a turntable, music lovers can then use amplifiers to build a high-quality sound system.
Would you like to see more vinyl records infographics and facts to assist you with your collection journey? Check out our blog.