Two Numbers: Vinyl Records Are Back

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Number of vinyl records sold in the U.S., 2007: 1 million; Number of vinyl records sold in the U.S., 2013: 6 million. Source: Nielsen SoundScan Serge Bloch

On Main Street in the tiny hamlet of Amagansett, New York, there’s a florist, a wine store, a few restaurants, a handful of clothes stores and then there’s Innersleeve Records, which opened a little over two years ago. Owner Craig Wright started in the music business in the late 1980s, collecting records and working at a record store when vinyl was on the way out. Today vinyl is in, and his store buys, sells and trades records. “I’ve done it long enough for the trend to come back,” he says. “A lot of record stores closed when rents were rising and sales declining. But now sales are increasing.”

At a time when album sales are falling, the growth of vinyl is a bright spot in the music industry. In the first half of 2014, sales of vinyl records were 4 million, compared with 2.9 million for the first half of 2013, an increase of almost 40 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan. At the same time, total album sales in the U.S. were down almost 15 percent to 121 million units, due to falling sales of CDs and digital albums.

Despite vinyl’s double-digit growth, it makes up only 3 percent of total album sales and is dwarfed by the size of digital downloads. On-demand streams were up 42 percent in the first six months of 2014 to more than 70 billion songs, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Still, the music industry began to take notice when sales of vinyl suddenly started to accelerate in 2008. “It really began as a grassroots indie concept,” says Wright. “Now major artists like Taylor Swift are getting into it.” So far this year, the biggest-selling vinyl albums are Lazaretto by Jack White and AM by the Arctic Monkeys, as well as classic albums by the Beatles and Bob Marley.

So who’s buying vinyl? According to Wright, it’s not just nostalgic oldsters looking to relive their youth or record collectors in the hunt for a rare album. “We see younger people getting into it. One kid gets into it and it just kind of spreads,” says Wright. “When you buy virtual music you’ve got nothing to hold on to. So for the first time with records, kids are holding something physical in their hand and collecting something they can show off and be proud of.”

Perhaps Peter Allen put it best in his hit song from the 1970s “Everything Old Is New Again.”