Vinyl outsold CDs for the first time since the '80s

Streaming now accounts for 85 percent of recorded music revenue, the RIAA says.

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Kris Holt
September 11th, 2020
Photo taken in Hamburg, Germany
Tim Kowalewski / EyeEm via Getty Images

The Recording Industry Association of America has released its mid-year report on the state of the US music industry. While there were plenty of expected outcomes (streaming way up, physical sales continuing to plunge), there were a few surprises.

The report indicates that, for the first time since the 1980s, vinyl outsold CDs. Vinyl album sales rose by four percent from the first half of 2019 to $232 million. That accounts for 62 percent of physical revenue during the first six months of the year, but just four percent of the overall revenue from recorded music.

Overall physical sales fell to $376 million. That’s a drop of 23 percent year-over-year. Reasons for that include people not visiting music stores, artists not touring (and not selling CDs at shows) and millions of people losing their jobs and entertainment budgets amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And then, of course, there’s the increasing shift to streaming.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that streaming subscriptions are way up. Spotify, for instance, added 12 million Premium subscribers during the six months to hit a global total of 138 million. Paid streaming subscribers in the US increased by 24 percent from the first half of 2019 to more than 72 million. Total streaming revenue rose 12 percent year-over-year to $4.8 billion.

Growth in ad-supported streaming revenues slowed down significantly to three percent year-over-year amid a drop in advertising income across a number of sectors. Despite that, it speaks to the dominance of streaming that revenue from ad-supported streaming ($421 million) was higher than both physical sales and digital downloads ($351 million) during that period.

The report found that streaming accounted for 85 percent of music revenue in the first six months of the year, up from 79 percent across all of 2019.

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