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Don’t Call It a Comeback: U.S. Vinyl Sales Made More Money Than Free Streaming in 2015

Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

The vinyl resurgence in recent years has been surprising to be sure, but in 2015, it jumped another unexpected hurdle. U.S. vinyl sales outpaced ad-supported, freemium streaming over the past year.

According to a new report from the RIAA, vinyl sales grew 32 percent to $416 million in 2015 — their highest since 1988. In comparison, revenue from advertising on free-tier streaming services like Spotify and YouTube only grew 31 percent to $385 million.

It’s important to note, of course, that vinyl sales still only make up a fraction of the music industry, which as a whole grew 0.9% to roughly $7 billion in 2015. What’s more, vinyl’s 32-percent growth doesn’t account for how much of that money actually went to labels and artists. And on the flipside, the 31-percent increase in streaming doesn’t include online radio streaming services like Pandora or paid streaming subscriptions on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and the like. Streaming as a whole grew 29 percent to $2.4 billion last year.

While the 32 percent growth in vinyl is certainly favorable for the physical format, RIAA CEO and chairman Cary Sherman noted the figures are — as one might suspect — not necessarily great news for artists. He called the report’s findings “proof that some fundamental market distortions are at play.”

“This is why we, and so many of our music community brethren, feel that some technology giants have been enriching themselves at the expense of the people who actually create the music,” Sherman said.

In response, YouTube argued the diversity of its content and the recent launch of its music-streaming app made it impossible to compare it to other services. “Past comparisons to other audio-only, subscription music services are apples and oranges,” a representative told the Verge.

Next: Record Store Day 2016 Release List Revealed

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