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This Is What Vinyl Sales Look Like Today Compared to 30 Years Ago

Erich Auerbach, Hulton Archive

If we had an actual LP sold for every story we’ve heard (and told!) about the vinyl revival these past couple of years, it’d be gold records for everyone. The truth, unfortunately, is a somewhat different tale.

There is no denying the surge of interest in vinyl records over the last few years — some of that in the form of novelty or nostalgia and some due to a genuine interest in the medium. The story of the big vinyl comeback has made headlines in all sorts of publications, as well as making the rounds on national news broadcasts. From the outside looking in, it would appear that nearly every single music fan out there has made the switch back to the 33 1/3 RPM world. A quick glance at the chart below, however, tells the story in a different light:

RIAA/Digital Music News

From the peak year of vinyl record sales back in the late ’70s, it has been a gradual decline with the first big drop off noticeable around 1982, the year that the compact disc began to make itself known, and just as significantly, the rise of the cassette tape as the choice of so many in the early ’80s.

The downward spiral continues throughout the decade where by the time we hit the early ’90s, wax has all but disappeared from the menu. In fact, at the time, most new releases were not even being manufactured on the format; many of the era’s biggest sellers never had a vinyl release.

In looking at the chart, it’s plain to see that starting around 2009, things began to pick back up; sales of the once forgotten beast have continued to rise since then. 2014 shows that vinyl sales are having their best showing since the big drop off decades ago. That being said, it’s doubtful that the sales trend will ever reach the lofty position they once had.

“The question isn’t just how many total vinyl units are being sold. It’s how are those units being distributed across the range of musicians selling them,” one reader commented on Digital Music News‘ website. “For some musicians, the revenue gained from 500 vinyl sales on tour may be the difference between having a tour in the red or in the black.”

Another point made in the comments is that a million bucks in vinyl sales in 2015 amounts to far less product sold than it did 30 years ago, raising the question, how many actual units are being sold (not just the dollar amount)? The going price for a single vinyl LP back around 1985 was somewhere in the neighborhood of seven dollars. It’s at least doubled, and in some cases tripled, that in 2015. Conversely, this chart does not reflect any upsurge in the sales of used records at brick and mortar shops or via the internet. The used market actually took flight before the current trend of new vinyl releases, and many would argue never left in the first place.

Another commenter put it a little differently, saying, “Vinyl is more like that person who is grandfathered in to drive horse-pulled carriages around the city, for all intents [and] purposes should be dead, but still kicking around just because it’s that cool and important.”

Don’t get us wrong, we’re pleased as punch that the long-player is enjoying this renaissance, but it might not do us or the industry any good to act like it’s a massive revolution.

What do you think about the vinyl revival? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and weigh in on the discussion!

Next: Vinyl, CD, MP3, Streaming, 8-Track — Which Is Best?

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