The Vinyl Revival & Music Streaming: Competing or Coexisting?
Your local record shop vs. Spotify
You’ve probably heard by now that vinyl records are back in a big way; but how do they compare with other formats?
The sales of big, shiny, black discs have been increasing substantially for more than a decade now; but is there room for this nostalgia-fest in a world dominated by streaming?
It was back in 2007 that sales of vinyl made a small increase. This statistic might have passed you by at the time as you were cranking that Soulja Boy. This by no means suggests that people had turned their backs on CDs or mp3, it was more of an indicator of how dire the record industry was in the preceding years. In the 2006–2007 year, new record sales grew 14% from 858,000 to 990,000. What a huge leap. While the percentage seems impressive the numbers were still low. It was enough to raise one eyebrow, not quite enough for both. What raised the other was the drop in CD sales from 553.4 million in 2006 to 360.6 million in 2008. Who would have thought that those shiny little laser read slices of the future would have fallen off? Were people back on the black?
No. Of course not.
Mp3 sales rose from 32.6 million to 65.8 million between 2006 and 2008. There we go. That makes more sense. The numbers don’t work out but if you consider the relative costs and other factors it makes a little more sense. Mp3 albums were generally cheaper, and the rise and rise of piracy made them a lot cheaper. In addition, the idea that people who used to buy albums in order to hear the same singles over and over again, weren’t forced to suffer through or skip the rest of the album, they could just buy the song they wanted for $1 from the comfort of their own home.
Skip forward to today. 9.7 million new vinyl records were sold in 2018. This is more than TEN TIMES what it was in 2006. Wow! Get excited! To put this in perspective, if almost everyone in Azerbaijan bought one record and no one else in the world did, this is the number we’d see. To put it into more perspective: 0.13% of people in the world bought a new record in 2018, assuming no one bought more than one. Wow…
Despite all this, new CDs are still outselling vinyl at a ratio of about three to one, despite their overall sales falling. To complicate matters further, many people aren’t buying music at all but rather paying for access to streaming services like Spotify. While vinyl sales are increasing, album sales have fallen around 18% overall, with streaming up by 42% in the last year.
What does it all mean?
People love the convenience of streaming. Most people are happy with this being their access to music as it has almost everything they could ever want. However, there are some of us who want more from their music. Some of us want to hold our music in our hands; to feel it, to see it, to own it as well as hear it.
CDs serve this purpose for a decreasing number of people. The music on a CD will sound the same as that you’d find on a streaming service as it’s digital. The advantage of CDs is that you can pick them up relatively cheaply as their desirability continues to fall. You can see the cover art, you can involve yourself in shopping for physical units, flick through the plastic and hear the somewhat satisfying click as they slap against each other.
However, what seems to be increasingly clear is that vinyl records are the tangible choice that will rise alongside the streaming juggernaut. The art is large, its sound is different (‘warmer’ is the go-to descriptor for many collectors), and it gives you a sense of ownership over your favourites. Records also involve you in the listening experience, to slide the disc from its sleeve, place it on the platter, lower the needle onto it, flip it over, and actually listen, is an experience that people can’t help but love. With all the convenience of streaming, it’s the inconvenience that draws people to vinyl. Streaming is proving itself to be an unintentional boon to the record industry. It allows people to try before they buy. While it’s true that vinyl is the most expensive way of listening to music, streaming allows us to hear albums we love before we commit our cash to the tangible version. While a lot of the sales allocated to vinyl are old albums that have been given fresh pressings, new albums are increasingly available. It is unusual to see a new album not released on vinyl, a future that few would’ve predicted twenty years ago.
Vinyl also offers us the opportunity to shop in record stores, which is not a habit you’ll ever want to break. This is a fantastic way of discovering new music or ‘new’ old music, or old favourites. This is where statistics don’t do the vinyl industry justice. It would be extremely unlikely for a record collection to be made up purely of new vinyl. Second-hand vinyl is a huge market and how most records are purchased but none of these sales count towards the overall ‘vinyl sales’ statistics. While this certainly doesn’t put vinyl in the majority, it’s bigger than it seems.
Additionally, the advantage of buying old records is that you’re hearing it on the format it was made for rather than a digital version. Records are a hobby and a lifestyle in a way that streaming will never be. Scrolling through Spotify will never give you the same satisfaction of flicking through your record collection or the possibilities offered in your local record shop.
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