CD sales rose for the first time in 17 years

The music industry made almost as much from CDs as digital downloads in 2021.

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TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 14: A man uses his fingers to flip through the CD stack. Vortex Record Store  founder and owner, Bert Myers, is closing his business after nearly four decades in business.        (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Rick Madonik via Getty Images

While streaming is the music industry's cash cow these days, CDs aren’t dead yet. According to the Recording Industry Association of America's annual sales report, revenue from CDs grew by 21 percent to $584 million in 2021. That marked the first annual increase in CD revenue in the US since 2004. The RIAA notes that many record stores opened back up and artists sold music at shows again after COVID-19 put everything on hold in 2020.

As has been the case for the last 15 years, vinyl sales are continuing to grow too. Revenue rose by a whopping 61 percent in 2021 to $1 billion. It's the first time vinyl sales have reached that milestone since 1986. Including other formats, physical music sales totaled $1.66 billion in the US last year.

The RIAA notes that the only major recorded music format to see a revenue decline last year was digital downloads. Sales dropped by 12 percent to $587 million — only $3 million more than CD revenue for 2021.

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Streaming revenue, unsurprisingly, is still soaring. Including platforms like digital radio, total revenue rose by 23.8 percent to $12.4 billion last year. Paid subscriptions accounted for $9.5 billion of that (an increase of 23 percent from 2020). The RIAA said the number of paid subscriptions jumped up by 11 percent to 84 million on average. Figures can vary throughout the year as people cancel and sign up for memberships.

Even though artists have long been demanding higher per-play payouts from platforms, streaming is easily the most important moneymaker for the music industry, accounting for 83 percent of overall revenue. Despite that, the rise in physical media sales is encouraging for fans of that format, and should give artists some assurances they can still make money by selling CDs. Record stores are going to stick around for a while yet.

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