Gone are the days of shimmery plastic CDs and chunky jewel cases, the past is making a comeback in a back way. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has revealed in its annual revenue report that vinyl sales have outpaced CD sales for the first time since 1987.
Sales of physical music formats, like vinyl, CDs, and cassette tapes, saw a 4% increase from 2021 to 2022, but last year vinyl made up $1.2 billion of the $1.7 billion in physical media sales according to the report. In physical units, records outsold CDs 41.3 million to 33.4 million, respectively—RIAA says this is vinyl’s sixteenth consecutive year of growth. CD sales actually fell 18% from $585 million to $482 million in revenue between 2021 to 2022, but the report suggests that 2021 saw a rebound in sales after 2020 took a chunk out of CD manufacturing and sales.
So vinyl is officially booming again, and it may have something to do with the pandemic. The height of the covid-19 pandemic forced concert venues to shut down over health concerns and saw artists and their labels rethinking their music release strategies. Vinyl may have offered a special experience without consumers ever having to leave their homes, and it was an untapped stream of income for artists and labels.
“I think that it was something that labels saw as a ‘We can do this to generate some income [during the pandemic],’” Lyndsey Havens, a senior editor at Billboard, told Gizmodo in a February interview. “That’s why you see a lot of live albums that were rereleased on vinyl or pressed on vinyl for the first time. It’s just a really good way to generate some extra income and then I think fans were responding well to that and now they’re demanding it from their favorite artists.”
While vinyl is a titan of the physical music industry, streaming is still king overall. RIAA’s report says that physical media only made up 11% of music revenue in 2022—streaming services made up 84%. That 84% equals about $13.3 billion in sales from streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, but RIAA also lists sources like social media platforms, digital radio, and even fitness apps.