U.K. Vinyl Sales Reach 25-Year High, But Digital Downloads Are in Decline

David Bowie vinyl records
A worker hangs David Bowie albums in the window of the Vinyl Exchange record store, Manchester, England, January 11, 2016. Vinyl sales soared to 3.2 million in the U.K. last year. Phil Noble/Reuters

Sales of vinyl records hit a 25-year high in the U.K. last year, buoyed by David Bowie’s final album Blackstar, while music downloads declined by over 20 percent in favor of streaming.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the association of various U.K. record labels that promotes the recording industry, said sales of vinyl albums rose to 3.2 million in 2016, a 53 percent increase on the 2 million sold in 2015.

Bowie’s Blackstar, released in January 2016 just two days before his death, was the top-selling record of the year. Amy Winehouse’s 2006 album Back to Black came in second place, followed by the 1970s and ‘80s-themed soundtrack to Marvel’s 2014 superhero blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy.

Radiohead’s latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool, Fleetwood Mac’s lauded 1977 release Rumours and Prince and The Revolution’s Purple Rain soundtrack from 1984 were also among the top 10.

BPI said it was the ninth consecutive year of growth for vinyl sales in Britain after just over 200,000 were sold in 2007.

Related: Middle-Aged Adults, Not Hipsters, Are Driving Vinyl's Resurgence

“Led by sales of David Bowie, demand for vinyl jumped to levels not seen since the start of the ‘90s, and fans also bought and collected music on CD that they are discovering and enjoying through streaming services in ever larger numbers,” said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor.

“We believe this performance is indicative of the promise of a new era for music, where recorded music’s investments in a digital future fuel compelling benefits for fans, artists and the entire music ecosystem.”

Vinyl’s resurgence over the last three years, in particular, is born out of the success of Record Store Day, an international effort that takes place every April and encourages people to buy limited edition physical format releases in independent music stores.

U.K. supermarket chains Tesco, which began stocking records in December 2015, and Sainsbury’s, which followed suit in March 2016, are among the major retailers to board the vinyl trend.

Digital developments

Sales of vinyl albums had a healthy uptick in 2016, but in the digital realm, downloads of albums and singles bowed to increasing preference for streaming.

According to BPI’s music market report, digital downloads account for just 22.6 percent of U.K. music consumption as people opt to join services like Spotify and Apple.

In early December, digital downloads yielded to physical sales of vinyl records for the first time—£2.4 million worth of vinyl LPs were sold in the first week of the festive month, compared to £2.1 million spent on downloading music.

Streaming music continued to experience exponential growth in 2016 as 45 billion audio streams were counted in the U.K. through services like Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Deezer and newcomer Amazon Music Unlimited. That is a 68 percent increase on 2015, the music industry body said.

That data doesn’t account for streams of songs and music videos on video sharing platforms like YouTube, which would increase the total figure further. At least two songs released in 2016 were viewed more than 1 billion times on YouTube globally: Fifth Harmony’s “Work from Home” and Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s “This Is What You Came For.”

Drake was 2016’s most successful streaming artist. His hit song “One Dance,” featuring Wizkid and Kyla, was Spotify’s most-streamed track and his latest album, Views, the most-streamed album.

“One Dance” was also the first song to reach 1 billion streams on Spotify.

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