RIAA Midyear Report: Vinyl Revenues Exceed Those of CDs— First Time Since 1982

The RIAA today released its mid-year data on U.S. consumer listening and recorded music revenue. Growth in paid subscription streaming more than offset declines in other areas, in great part affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Revenue increased 5.6% to 5.7 billion dollars, with musicians receiving an average of $1.50 each (irony warning). Paid streaming subs increased by 24% to more than 72 million on average, driving revenues up for the first half of 2020 by 14% versus the first half of 2019. However, growth in ad-supported streaming revenues slowed dramatically due to the pandemic.

Physical sales including vinyl albums and compact discs, also affected by the pandemic that is just a flu and disappeared as the weather warmed last spring so why wear a mask? (irony warning) fell 23% but don't panic! That includes both sinking formats (CD) and rising ones. For 2019 vinyl sales volume was up a healthy 14.6% compared to 2018, while CD sales during that same time period fell 10.5%. Revenues in 2019 were $614.5 million for CDs and $497.6 million for LPs and EPs.

However, for the first half of 2020, revenues from "physical products" was $376 million at estimated retail value, or down 23% year-over-year, no doubt due in great part to retail and venue shutdown measures related to Covid-19. Vinyl revenues increased in Q1 over the same period last year, but decreased in Q2, no doubt pandemic related. However, and here's the good news (for some of us): 1H 2020 revenues from vinyl sales resulted in a net overall increase of 4% or a total of $232 million dollars, or 62% of total physical revenues, marking the first time vinyl exceeded CDs for such a period since the 1980s, though it still only accounted for 4% of total music recorded music revenues. The once promising digital download market revenues dropped precipitously from $451 million 1H 2019 to $351 million 1H 2020. Still ahead of vinyl revenues for the first half, but again dropping.

And keep in mind the RIAA misses a great deal of vinyl sales activity including all used record sales, which it doesn't cover at all. For more statistical analysis visit the RIAA website.

fdroadrunner's picture

I think the real question this prompts is this: how do CD's remain viable at all? I think most of us here understand the arguments for vinyl or we probably wouldn't be here.
The argument for CD's is less clear; streaming is portable (like CD's) and has sound quality that is just as good or better, so what argument can there be for CD's?
It can't be for the tangible engagement with physical media, as vinyl would be a clearer choice for that.
The only time I play CD's is in the car on my commute, but I wouldn't do that if I carried a cell phone like normal people; I'd stream music from a phone through the car stereo (which is what I'm sure most music fans do). But since there can't be many of us who refuse to carry a cell phone in 2020, the argument for CD's is a little unclear to me.
Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Analog Scott's picture

And do so despite streaming and downloads. I like having physical media. Vinyl isn't always an option and sometimes the vinyl sucks even when it is an option. I have a pretty amazimg collection of signed classical CDs. Wouldn't even be possible if I limited myself to vinyl and non-physical digital media.

MalachiLui's picture

probably mostly selling in walmarts and targets in rural america, and through ticket bundling for shows that never happened. for example, kenny chesney ENDED DRAKE's #1 ALBUMS STREAK WITH CD/TICKET BUNDLES. out of anyone who could end drake's seemingly invincible chart run, almost no one expected kenny chesney to do so (and of course, those CDs were bundled with tickets for a cancelled tour, essentially cheating the system). and while it'll only count towards the year-end analysis, taylor swift made 8 variations of her (very good, actually) new album 'folklore' on CD (different artwork on each CD, similarly done vinyl coming soon). so while very few CDs are being sold, the ones that sell move decent numbers.

as for me, i've only bought a few new CDs this year, which were:

-fishmans 'long season.' japanese SHM import, probably didn't even count towards RIAA stats. anyway, absolutely essential album hard to find on vinyl.

-frank ocean 'channel ORANGE.' doesn't exist on vinyl.

-ecco2k 'E.' the sounds of god... except not on vinyl. i bought 2 copies. probably counted towards sales in sweden, as that's where it shipped from (and that's where year0001 is based).

-taylor swift 'folklore.' not a taylor fan but liked this album and was able to get a signed CD at music millennium. would've been dumb not to buy it. (and yes, i preordered the vinyl too.)

-yung lean 'starz.' got 2 CD copies for collector's purposes. vinyl also preordered. best album of the year, but likely counts towards swedish sales stats (also year0001).

-kanye 'yeezus.' not on vinyl.

so basically, CDs are a last resort / collector's item for me.

Paul Boudreau's picture

I recently bought the Mosaic Paul Desmond 7CD box. I’d prefer it on vinyl but I doubt that will ever be available. So, sometimes the choice is CDs or nothing if you want to hear that particular music.


rshak47's picture

Very fine sound, as is typically the case with Mosaic. And while I generally prefer vinyl, I can't deny the convenience factor of CDs.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Most if not all of my music-loving friends have been suckered (my word) into the convenience-over-sound quality aspect of CDs. LPs are undeniably a pain in the rear to take care of and play but it all comes down to one's priorities. Personally I'm gratified and amazed that vinyl is still alive and shows no signs of disappearing any time soon!

Montpier's picture

Thanks for info, but despite being a long time supporter of Mosaic -- going back to their very first Monk on Blue Note box set -- took a pass on the Desmond box mainly because already have some of the previously released material on LP's from A&M Horizon and Artists House and didn't feel a need for more from those live dates on CD. Plus have Complete Desmond Quartet w/Jim Hall Mosaic box set on LP which remains my preferred solo Desmond (and well worth seeking out second hand).

By contrast have broken down and pre-ordered the upcoming Mosaic Complete Hank Mobley on Blue Note 1963-70 on CD because I do want to hear all those tracks (and have the great booklet that accompanies all Mosaic releases) but can still go to some of the individual Mobley vinyl LP's from that period if seeking the more engaging (satisfying?) listening experience.

Kind of ironic that years ago when CBS was issuing complete Miles Davis box sets on CD Mosaic was able to acquire the rights to issue the material on vinyl because of Sony's disinterest, whereas now Mosaic can probably get CD rights more readily than Vinyl reissues.

rexlibris's picture

I like a physical item. I buy records when I can, but many smaller artists still only put out CDs due to costs of making vinyl.

mariojzz's picture

Very Little new Jazz music comes out on vinyl. ECM is a great example.

jamesgarvin's picture

I'll purchase the vinyl when I can, but if my choice is cd or not listening to new jazz, I'll happily listen on cd. I also like supporting artists. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of artists, particularly jazz, derive very little income from streaming. I've talked to many jazz artists and read multiple interviews of jazz artists who like cds because they can sell them at gigs, make some income, and leave people with something tangible like a business card. In other words - marketing.

Jim Tavegia's picture

So Joe Rogan takes his podcast to Spotify and earns $100 MILLION on the backs of musicians many of whom trained for years, Julliard or Berklee, maybe??? How can just talking be worth that kind of money? It tells you all you need to know about what is wrong with streaming.

Are there any musicians earning $100 million off streaming...Not even close. Two brothers "discovered" a Phil Collins song playing it on youtube. It got a million plays on apple music, went to their number one position and Phil Collins earned a whopping $6,500.00. Hunter S. Thompson was right about the music business.

Please don't tell me that streaming is CD quality as I have tried them all. There are some that claim 2496, but don't sound as good as the same cd I can player here at home. Sound quality is variable at best and may be at the mercy of one's good or bad internet service.

Tom L's picture

Streaming is a huge ripoff of the artists. Almost no money goes to the actual creators.

analogdw's picture

I do stream when working in the home office, but any album that I like (which is basically all that I stream), I buy on vinyl. Even if I only listen to the vinyl occasionally, at least I am supporting the artist. And I always buy the vinyl directly from the artist, as opposed to a retailer, if that is an option.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I think a new wave is coming in the form of what Brian Culbertson is doing on Friday nights. His "The Hang" is live on FB and you can join for a little as $10 a month and be a part of the broadcast and ask questions and he has CDs and items for sale now that he is "an independent artist. I think this makes great sense financially for artists and his Friday night show is well produced by him and his crew. Please check it out. You can always watch it a day later on Youtube. You can go back and check out older shows as well. He is a great fusion jazz piano player and arranger. He had Bob James and David Benoit on a few weeks ago by way of Zoom.

Two weeks ago he had the great Ramsey Lewis on this show and Ramsey does his own show once a month and costs $20, well worth it in support of artists we love.

ArcAudio's picture

The business is what it is. Artists have to do other things to bring in income in this day and age. Touring, merchandising and BRANDING. Do you stop watching old TV shows (assuming you enjoy such) because Bob Denver's estate gets no royalties? Nothing that says because you release music, you should be instant millionaires. If anything, artists have so much more control over their own business than ever before. Plus, education and info is so accessible. Back in the day, all you heard were artists bitching about "the Man". Today Artists can be their own "man". It takes work and commitment. Plus, it take making quality material. Just like years past, the charts are full of "pop garbage". It's just now, the artists who produce such has a brand following that pays the bills.

Tom L's picture

...about the artists, but most of the ones I like are just scraping by. They survive on live shows and there aren't any now. Personally, I hate to see the leader of one of my favorite bands parking cars at a dealership instead of touring. I'm sure it has cut into his time and energy that should be devoted to writing and recording great new music.

ArcAudio's picture

Many people are doing "odd jobs" to stay afloat. If the artists you are taking about were big back in the day, then maybe its more about choices they made in life when bigger money was flowing in. If its regional club musicians, its a tough time since nothing is open.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Do you want to listen to he A&R guys play instruments? Hardly. Too much money goes to people who make small contributions to music delivery and why many are going independent. What this video and you will understand.

Not worrying about artists will mean that many will leave this business or find new ways to promote and distribute their music. Sadly I just watched a video of the top 10 singles listened to on Spotify and it is clear that the music industry for the most part is not for me anymore or my generation. All ten songs were the worst I've heard all year. But it is art and in the eyes and ears of the beholder. Glad things are being remastered.

ArcAudio's picture

It's a different day. Plus, you have access to more music than ever. Plus, there is WAY MORE artists releasing music today.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Just because one can put their music out there doesn't mean they should.

Tom L's picture

To me, good music is more than a "product", musicians are more than "industry employees", and it's important that expert musicians be in a position to make a living from their art instead of pushing a line of shopping carts across a parking lot. Just seems like a waste of talent and a loss to society. But maybe that's just me.

Montpier's picture

Few observations/curiosities:
- Despite Vinyl overtaking CD's in sales $, CD's still have an edge in "Unit" sales albeit declining rapidly.
- In addition to the introduction of CD's in the 80's boosting sales as consumers replaced their favorite vinyl/cassettes/(8-tracks) albums with CD's, the latter also had much larger margins reflecting initial retail prices 2-3 times other formats. Wonder what LP vs. CD margins are like these days because vinyl is still relatively labor intensive?
- Obviously the real continuing story that is most worrying is who is benefitting from the shift towards paid subscription streaming?

(Hint: it ain't the musicians who have become increasingly reliant on live appearances and associated merchandising! And that's doing even worse than physical media sales. Sorry, I'm now panicking...)

Support your favorite artists folks.

Analog Scott's picture

"support your favorite artists folks" Amen.

Babysharks's picture

Here's a recent article from a Canadian writer, Alan Cross:


Seems Canada has experienced a drop in vinyl sales. Mr. Cross discusses many of possible (and obvious) reasons, but suggests a "wait and see" before making any final conclusions on a continuing vinyl resurrection.

RinziRadio's picture

Who is still buying CDs? Classical music lovers like me. I am a passionate vinyl fan, and still have all my records dating back to when I was 10 (I am now 60). I buy used records and new records from good reissue labels, of jazz, rock, pop, classical etc. But classical is my favorite music genre - I was classically trained, and I produced music programming for NPR back in the day when NPR did music. The new classical music CD and SACD market is thriving. Independent labels have picked up the slack from the majors and an astonishing range of new and historic recordings of exceptional quality are being released every month. The quality of the recordings themselves has improved immeasurably (and engineers working in classical are less likely to compress their recordings like their counterparts in other genres), and with a good CD/SACD player the classical music lover is spoiled for choice. Most of these new releases never make it to vinyl. (I also use the TIDAL streaming service extensively). I know classical represents a tiny share of the market, but it is doing well, to my knowledge. Happy to report that independent classical retailers like Presto Music in the UK have found the sweet spot in terms of carrying a large range of catalog product and offering very good pricing. As a music lover first, an audiophile second, I am thrilled to have so many choices. The only downside to the vinyl re-emergence is the elevation of prices and the depletion of stock in used record stores and on-line. Well, you can't win 'em all.

deauguie's picture

But I just bought the Decca Zubin Mehta “38” cd box set of his recording with the LAPO. Can you imagine what this set would cost as an LP set? I haven’t listened to any of the discs yet, but the review I read that prompted me to purchase this set was very good. I expect many hours of listening pleasure. If I waited for the LP set or searched for original and/or reissues, not only would I probably never be able to listen to these great recordings, I’d have to deplete a good chunk of my savings account in the process. (The set cost $119 on Amazon).

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I had a second sudden hearing loss event two+ years ago, music was no longer enjoyable and after 50 years I had no more genres to explore. I've turned my attention to movies, luckily closed captions have become standard on most physical and streaming sources, that helps greatly!

Michael Fremer's picture
For a review of a high performance hearing aid that might change your life..... seriously.
Jim Tavegia's picture

I've tried many and no luck so far.

Ortofan's picture

... or another company?

rexlibris's picture

I have a hearing aid in one ear. It has a music setting and it works great! I'm still enjoying high end records.

Tasingegade's picture

Tapes or CDs? classic.

Anyway good points by the commenters but I have a question. Does Analog Planet plan to cover analog tape in any way? I know that is a part of the market but it just doesnt seem that accessible.

cher143's picture

Boy, I'm a major contributor to that graphic!

TerryNYC's picture

vinyl = $232M
digital = $5,468M

As when Amazon packages arrive via USPS, FedEx, UPS we are purchasing the package contents, not the delivery mechanism. Individuals may have preferences for optical disc, download, streaming, however it is the data file that is being purchased.

ArcAudio's picture

Cd's was the first medium that combined the elements of vinyl and tape into a single disc. Quick access to whatever track, portable, no pops, clicks, etc. Plus, as time went on, one could burn their own discs with whatever tracks they wish. With streaming services, there really is no need for such.

Big-J's picture

I always buy physical media both vinyl and CD. Now is a great time to buy used CD's. You can buy a great used CD for $2 or less. CD's are not going away. In a given day, you can find me streaming, spinning CD's, spinning LP's, and even playing cassettes. I love music and will listen to it anyway I can.