Don’t Believe in Vinyl Sales Numbers

Contributed by Michal Fremer, Editor,

We Can all express our enthusiasm for vinyl records and we do, but what really counts are the cold, hard numbers. Annual sales figures do not lie. Or do they?

At every Making Vinyl event someone presents statistics gathered by one or more of the reporting agencies: there are bar graphs, pie charts, and stacks of statistics. New vinyl sales increase every year. But do the numbers accurately reflect what’s happening in the stores and online? And of equal importance do the numbers comport with what’s happening at the pressing plants?

The good news for vinyl enthusiasts, as reported by the RIAA, is that in 2020, for the first time since 1986, revenue in America from new vinyl sales is expected to surpass that of CDs. CD sales numbers continue to tank as vinyl sales rise. According to the RIAA’s first half of 2019 statistics, approximately 8.6 million new records were sold producing revenue of $224.1 million dollars, up 6% in units sold and 12.9% in dollars, while CD sales were flat, with revenue up a miniscule 0.8%, to $247.9 million.

For the year then, expect new vinyl sales to reach somewhat in excess of 16 million units for a dollar value of approximately $448 million dollars with CD sales expected to generate revenues of approximately $500 million. If current trends continue next year vinyl will take a victory lap. Whoever expected that to happen? In part, we can thank streaming for the resurgence, but no doubt people who are willing to buy recordings on vinyl of what they can stream for free or for a small monthly fee must still love vinyl more! And we all know why.

But are these numbers accurate? If you are reading this at “Making Vinyl Hollywood,” begins, try to familiarize yourself with the pressing plant owners present. Watch their faces as this year’s sales numbers are announced. You will no doubt see them laughing and/or shaking their heads as they have at every Making Vinyl event so far.

Why? Last year Rainbo and United Record Pressing alone pressed approximately 20 million records. Czech Republic based GZ Media alone pressed at least that many records as did Optimal Media in Röbel, Germany. Include Furnace, Pallas, MPO, RTI, QRP, Gotta Groove, Erica, Memphis Record Pressing, Third Man Record Pressing, Cascade, Independent Record Pressing and the many other “boutique” pressing plants in America and around the world and you can be sure the total number of records pressed in 2018 was easily in excess of 40 million units. Where are all of these records? Of course, some are on store shelves and in online retailer warehouses gathering dust, and some are in the trunks of bands touring small clubs and dive bars and selling them at post show “merch tables.” Some are defective returns as well, ready to be re-ground and used again, but surely in an era of “lean inventories,” the announced annual American sales figures that for the past few years have averaged around 10 million units sold, must have seriously undercounted the true number of new records sold.

We are all grateful for the work done and sales figures gathered by organizations like Nielsen/Soundscan and RIAA but given the disparity between their numbers and those divulged by the pressing plants, it’s probably safe to say that last year or the previous year vinyl record revenue surpassed that of CDs.

Congratulations everyone!