Trends tend to be cyclical. One generation rejects the “form” of the previous generation, only for the generation after that to bring it back. With the massive digital push we’ve experienced in the last decade (we’re looking at you, smartphone), it seems people are adhering to this phenomenon and reverting back to, well, the physical. What we’re speaking about here is the nostalgic, romantic, and outdated vinyl record.
Is Vinyl Making a Comeback?
Absolutely. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts here. According to Forbes, since 2009 the record format has seen a 260% increase in sales. We call it the vinyl resurgence. Additionally, last year alone, according to Nielsen Music, vinyl sales in America increased by 14.6%. Compared to the 11.9% drop in sales of regular music albums (something spearheaded, of course, by digital streaming platforms), that’s a massive indicator that vinyl is coming back.
Vinyl sales have currently hit their 13th consecutive year of growth.
If music on vinyl continues on its current trajectory, then it could very well grow to compete against “regular” album sales and listeners of streamed music. The truth is that most music enthusiasts would prefer to stream an album than own it… unless, of course, it’s vinyl.
Why Has This Trend Been Revived?
You really can’t put a price on nostalgia. Realistically, that’s one of the main driving forces behind this meteoric rise in the formats’ popularity. Why? Because turntable technology has not really been improved upon since the 1980s. Of course, audiophiles will rave about the “fresh” vinyl sounds of analog, but the reality is there are better outlets for quality audio. This should be a no-brainer.
In which case, what are some reasons driving forward this revival?
- Tangibility: In the world of online music streaming, ownership is lost. We have access to everything, but none of it feels like our own. While before, vinyl was typically a staple of the modern hipster worshipping “decades ago,” now people buy vinyl because they like to physically own music.
- It’s accessible: Of course, buying classic vinyl is a hobby for many enthusiasts. But what about the bands of now? Previously, buying vinyl for a modern album was a difficult process. Sometimes, the orders were backlogged because there was a massive shortage of vinyl presses. Most times, vinyl just wasn’t offered. Today, record companies like Viryl Technologies, Newbilt, and more are re-manufacturing vinyl presses. With a broader stroke, vinyl pressing plants are opening everywhere across America, trying desperately to keep up with demand. This is both a reason for vinyl’s comeback and one that proves its magnitude.
- The listening experience: the modern music listening experience is convenient to the point of nearly being cheap. Of course, older generations would consider it a luxury, but with headphones, smartphones, and streaming, we can listen to all forms of music anywhere, anytime. On the other hand, the vinyl listening experience is more attentive, personal, and immersive. Pandora isn’t playing curated music lost in the background, there’s a physical album spinning beneath a tonearm, and the album is typically listened to in its entirety—start to finish.
The answer to this question is in the mundane. There’s no one celebrity or music label advocating the reemergence of vinyl, nor is anyone saying it should become our standard format again. More so, it’s a response to the way we’ve been conditioned to listen to music. Generation Z barely even interacted with CD-ROMS.
There’s a romanticism to grabbing a physical record and placing it on the turntable, only for the crisp and grainy audio to fill the living room. Somewhere, someone created that piece of hardware, the band approved the cover art, and that vinyl feels like a piece of the music itself--whereas it can be argued that streaming music pays more similarity to borrowing it.
This resurgence comes with a new experience of being involved in the quality and upkeep of products associated with vinyl too. This includes record player speaker setup, finding the best record player speakers, learning about how to replace a record player cartridge and how to clean a record needle. This experience is comprised of an entire community of vinyl enthusiasts debating the top classic vinyl records and so much more.
It Might Be Bigger Than We Think
In addition to the growth spotlighted by sales numbers, there are many experts that believe the vinyl industry is much bigger than we think. This is due to a lack of one centralized metric existing that considers all sales.
For instance, nearly a third of retail sales of new vinyl go unreported because the stores selling them don’t report their numbers, and Amazon refuses to do so too. This could potentially mean that the music industry is 2 or 3 times the size we think it is. It could also mean that as digital radio (Pandora and Sirius XM) and CDs continue to plummet, vinyl has the opportunity to become the main “purchased format” of record sales.
Although many might say that’s far fetched or even impossible—the idea of vinyl outselling CDs—statistics, trends, and consumer reports seem to say otherwise. Of course, only time will tell. But one thing is absolutely certain:
Vinyl isn’t making a comeback. It’s made one.
Billboard. US Vinyl Album Sales Grew 15% in 2018, Led by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, David Bowie & Panic! At the Disco. Keith Caulfield. 1/12/2019. Retrieved from:
Billboard. The Future of Vinyl: After a Decade of Growth, A Retro Biz Spins Forward. Andy Hermann. April, 2018. Retrieved from:
Pitchfork. Is Vinyl’s Comeback Here to Stay? Marc Hogan. Jan, 2018. Retrieved from: