Sales of vinyl have hit a 25-year high, with 2016 seeing the strongest sales of the format since 1991.
In 1991, the CD was still in its relative infancy, tape sales were waning, and we saw the release of monster records such as Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, Nevermind by Nirvana, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Metallica’s self-titled ‘Black’ album, and both Use Your Illusion albums. It was a banner year for vinyl sales, and the highest figures for the format in the 25 years since.
Yet, as streaming becomes ubiquitous, and even downloading a song seems like an archaic waste of time, music lovers are craving tangible music formats again – and vinyl provides the perfect way to experience music in a way far removed from the digital world.
Two separate sets of sales figures – BuzzAngle Music tackled the US market, while BPI analysed stats for the UK – throw up some very interesting facts.
Music streaming in the US hit an all-time high (the term ‘all-time’ in relation to something as new as streaming is a bit of a misnomer, but anyway) with 250.7 billion songs streamed, while overall physical sales dropped by 11.7% – no doubt due to the slow death of the CD. Despite the continued move online, vinyl sales rose a massive 25.9% in 2016.
While hip hop rules the streaming landscape – occupying 18.2% of all streams – rock is still the dominant format on vinyl, with catalogue titles occupying much of the US top 25 vinyl sales list. Despite the cries of vinyl being back, there is a long way to go, with sales but a shadow of the days when a million-selling record was a relative failure. The top selling album in the US was Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface, with 49,004 album sales. Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black was next, scoring 41,087 sales, with Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Adele’s 25 following.
Elsewhere, we see records you could probably find in a bargain bin at a second-book bookshop: Bob Marley Legend, Miles Davis Kind Of Blue, Michael Jackson Thriller, and Fleetwood Mac Rumours were all big sellers in 2016.
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In the UK, death played a big part in the rise of vinyl sales, with David Bowie being the biggest-selling vinyl artist of the year. He landed five records in the Top 30 (Blackstar, which was the most popular selling album of the year, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, Nothing Has Changed and Changesonebowie), while Prince also sold well – especially his magnum opus Purple Rain.
More than 3.2m records sold in UK during 2016, and – happily – it was the first year since digital downloads were introduced that vinyl sales outpaced those of iTunes.
There’s something suitably solemn about honouring the likes of Leonard Cohen, Prince and David Bowie by playing them on vinyl; this is how those artists were first heard, and how they are still best heard.
People want tangible objects – it’s human nature, and there is still nothing as satisfying as cracking open a new record, placing it with care on the turntable, and letting the sound take you away, as you look at the album sleeve.
Formatting a Spotify playlist will never compete with that, no matter how many millions of songs are at your disposal.