Down in a vinyl and streaming world: the compact disc


Outlandishness. It started with Neil Young who in February dismissed vinyl’s renaissance as a fashion statement, A similar sentiment was this week echoed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s Noel Paul Stookey – he called vinyl’s fresh lease of life ‘a fad’. Also this week, Forbes quoted Quincy Jones: “Honey, we have no music industry. There’s 90% piracy everywhere in the world”.

Old timers looking for relevance in a changing world? Cynical attempts to steal headlines for a promotional subtext? Perhaps.

At the end of June, Nielsen published their report on music sales conducted in the U.S.A. for the first six months of 2015. (Commonly referred to as ‘H1 2015’).

For those unfamiliar with The Nielsen Company, Wikipedia tell us that they are in the business of “global information and measurement”. Clicking over to Nielsen’s website proper expands on this. Nielsen “provide insights and data on what people watch and what people buy”.

Time to poke around inside the report.

The first major headline is that vinyl sales are WAY UP, bucking the trend for albums sales as a whole which are down 4% on H1 2014.

Source: Nielsen

Vinyl’s recently exhumed popularity saw year-on-year sales grow from 4m units in H1 2014 to 5.6m unit in H1 2015. That’s a 38.4% jump. The most popular albums came courtesy of new releases from Taylor Swift and The Alabama Shakes, a slightly older one from The Arctic Monkey and (the much older) Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis.

An interesting aside: Taylor Swift doesn’t rate in the UK’s top selling vinyl albums so far for 2015. Noel Gallagher, Led Zeppelin and The Stone Roses take out the top three spots with the first female artist – Amy Winehouse – taking out the Number 18 spot. So British!

Back to Nielsen’s US-only remit. Fans of the black stuff will be delighted to hear that their preferred format now comprises 9% of all physical music media shifted in the USA. However, once digital downloads are factored back in that figures slips to 5%. Last year that figure was a mere 3%.

Charting vinyl sales trends back to 1993 we see the bullishness of recent years.

Source: via Nielsen / Statista

However, in the context of vinyl’s 1970s and 1980s hey day, the recent upward trend appears comparatively minor. Fashion statement? Blip? Fad? Calling it out in those terms just isn’t possible. Sorry Neil Young, sorry Noel Paul Stookey. Whatever the long-term prognosis the world’s record pressing plants are currently running at capacity. The upward movement of demand and supply looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.


These stats talk to the very point I used to diffuse tension between Chris Connaker and Michael Fremer’s at T.H.E Newport Show last month: the resurgence of vinyl is BIG when viewed against the backdrop of vinyl sales figures throughout the noughties, but small in the context of other (digital) formats.

According to Nielsen, dwarfing vinyl sales 20:1 in H1 2015 was the double-checkout-whammy of CDs (56.6m) and digital downloads (53.7m). Almost half of all albums sold are on CD with digital downloads not far behind. The latter is (almost) stable year on year – down a mere 0.1%  – but CD sales less so – they’re down a fairly substantial 10% on H1 2014.

Looking at this chart from the Wall Street Journal, music sales are on a downward trajectory. One that’s being softened by the market’s partial transition to digital downloads and the aforementioned sharp uptick in vinyl buying.


Be careful no to infer from the above chart that the US music industry’s ability to make money is on the slide. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), wholesale level sales of US$4.86bn in 2014 were up 2% on the previous year whilst retail revenue at US$6.97bn was down 0.5% on 2013.

Source: RIAA

“Paging Mr Quincy Jones…Mr. Quincy. Jones.”  The music business is alive and well.

Streaming service revenue is picking up the slack left by dwindling physical media sales. To wit, this is how the US music industry’s revenue separated in 2013:


And here’s this is how it all shook down in 2014:


Downloads = down 3%, physical = down 3%, streaming up 6%.

Let’s look more closely at streaming services. Back to the recent Nielsen report:

Source: Nielsen.

Total streams are up whopping 92.4% with video (oddly) leading the charge. (Perhaps YouTube streams are now being tracked more accurately). No matter, streaming is becoming an increasingly critical component in music business’ revenue stream.

But American is not the world. Outside of the USA – and particularly in Scandinavia and South Korea – streaming is far more popular, demand for which outstrips digital downloads by up to 87%.


Looking at the USA, Canada, Germany and Australia where streaming demand currently lags behind, I think we can safely expect their download-to-streaming ratio to eventually swing in favour of streaming. Streaming services are the mainstream future of music delivery.

Don’t believe me? According to reports in The Australian and The Wall Street Journal, the latest figures from the IFPI show 2014 as the first year in which global digital download / streaming revenue outpaced money coming in from physical format sales: $6.9bn from digital, $6.8bn from vinyl and CDs.


Back in the USA, revenue from streaming in 2014 totalled $1.87bn. CD revenue for the same year? $1.85bn. You could argue that 2014 was CD’s tipping point.

This isn’t a re-ignition of the digital vs. vinyl debate. Far from it. People are free to choose whichever format they prefer. One person’s preference has no effect on his neighbour.

Or does it…?

Consider the possibility that the man in the street’s move to streaming services might ultimately cause CD supply to slow. Just as we saw with the decline of vinyl supply in the nineties, it won’t be long before an artist (or its label) questions the economic viability of a CD release. Will those physical format doubters continue to fulfil the audiophile’s need for a FLAC or ALAC by supplying download sites that offer the same? We already know that lossless download sites like Boomkat, Bleep and Qobuz are no way near as comprehensively stocked as a CD store. CDs are sometimes the only way of getting a lossless version of an album onto a music server.

Tidal Hifi and similar services from Qobuz and Deezer are all very well but the music isn’t your to keep – you only rent it – and many of the bigger artists have been know to turn off the supply tap at a moment’s notice: Thom Yorke, Taylor Swift and Prince being notable examples.

Conspiracy theorists might also point to the contract between label and artist most likely to financially favouring the former with streaming; is this not the real reason why so many artists complain of streaming’s malnourished remuneration? Couple that to Warner, Sony and Universal each having a financial interest in Spotify and we see greater major label incentive to prioritise streaming over CDs.

We started with outlandish claims and so I’ll end with one of my own: CDs are on their way out and alongside their slow demise will arrive a corresponding shortage in lossless audio supply.

What say ye?

Further information: Nielsen | RIAA

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


Leave a Reply
  1. I like your analysis – a balanced view.

    I don’t like your conclusions though – not disagreeing mind you, but a world of only lossy streamed releases

    • I’m not saying we’ll see a world of where only lossy streaming exists. Neither am I saying that CDs will vanish. They’ll likely follow the trajectory of the vinyl album: ultimately fetishised after a few years in the wilderness of being ‘deeply uncool’. You gotta go away to come back, right?

      What I *am* saying is we might soon see some new releases arrive without access to a lossless version.

  2. Fad? Maybe. Trend(y)? Well, sure, at the moment it’s cool to own records. Trend fueled by a genuine interest in sound quality? Many convince themselves as much, because, you know, turntables are sexy (again). Fashion statement, in line with the mid century home decor trend? Hmmmm, what have we here…

    Nina Palmer (National Sales Director, Ross Ellis Printing) explained, it is not just the demand for new “vinyls” which has caught everybody in the industry unprepared, it is the demand for premium packaging, too. She explained that a large part of the LP resurrection is fueled by the perceived value, physical beauty, and collectability of the packaging. She says the majority of new discs (black and silver) are being sold with elaborate “Black Moses”-type fold-out jackets with high-quality printing. She pulled out a double gold-vinyl record in a blinding gold quadruple gatefold sleeve that shot beams of golden light across the room. Despairingly, Steve Sheldon chimed in, “And now everybody wants colored vinyl—which takes longer and costs more to press!”

    Panel conductor, Michael Kurtz (Founder, Record Store Day) explained that suddenly, 15% of all “hard” music sales are in the form of vinyl and that the demographic for these sales was not aging baby boomers. He said it was mostly people born during the digital age. Bryan Burkert (Owner, The Sound Garden record stores) smiled and explained, “Most of my vinyl customers are young, well-educated women.” He explained that they were treating these beautifully packaged items not only as sources of listening pleasure but as cult status trophy items that are even better when purchased, signed by the artist, on their first day of release. He explained that when a group brings out the LP days or weeks later than the CD or download, “Total recording sales are usually lower.” Clearly, vinyl was attracting music buyers’ attention.


    • Michael Fremer might jump on me for a great height for saying this but I suspect that most people buying vinyl are doing so for its collectibility, its tangibility and look/feel long before sound quality becomes a consideration. The majority of Taylor Swift fans are probably not audiophiles (or even care too much about SQ) – they simply want a tangible version of 1989. As you say, trophy items.

      Going further, when I think of my non-audiophile mates who buy vinyl, their hifi ‘systems’ are a mess of Crossley-esque proportions. There’s no way anyone would hear a difference between vinyl and CD on them. They are either buying on the basis of received wisdom – that vinyl sounds ‘richer’, ‘warmer’ – or they are buying vinyl for its premium packaging and to hold something tangible. Hardware limited the lot of ’em, one thing they most definitely are NOT realising is better sound.

      But I/we digress – this piece is really about the possibility of a dwindling lossless *digital* audio supply.

  3. Wanted to disagree with your conclusion, had some counter arguments but then thought of iTunes and unfortunately I think you are right.

  4. I suspect that most people who buy vinyl, listen to most of their music via some other means, most of the time. It’s like the car vs cyclists debate that’s raging in much of the world, a world where most cyclists that spark the ire of car drivers are actually car drivers too. The respective modes are not exclusive clubs.
    The allure of vinyl goes well beyond listening to music – it’s much more of an artistic statement than any download or stream is, that’s for sure (and it’s much more pleasing on the eye than any guy in Lycra who’s had a few too many slices of pizza over the years).

  5. BandCamp is one example of artists taking control over the quality their music is distributed at, allowing self publication and/or access to smaller labels. And it seems that the access portal (BandCamp in this instance) only takes 10% of the sales proceeds.

    Just as it is with consumers who must want it to buy it, the ongoing appeal of lossless music depends on artists valuing it in the first place, then doing what they must to insure that their stuff remains available in such forms (including exerting control on their mixing/mastering guys to use less dynamic compression).

    Wanting something (appreciating quality) always relies on exposure, contrast and having personal experience with it. Hifi dealers used to be one element of demonstrating the difference and sowing seeds of discontent (with crap sound) and the desire for better, whether their visitors could afford it right then or had to aspire to it later in life.

    The press is another element of spreading information about better sound quality and its desirability. Both elements seem to suffer from shrinking relevance but then, most things in life are cyclical. They go up, they go down, they disappear and reappear again.

    As long as there’s live music, people have opportunity to hear a difference. Will they care enough to want better for their playback too? These are all the usual questions. From a grass roots perspective, it remains true as it’s always been that exposing one’s friends, family and acquaintances to the things one fancies is the best way to spread its appeal. It could be healthier food, a secret beach, a fabulous new author… sharing is the way to spread the joy and generate interest. And it’s interest which creates demand. And wherever there is real demand, there’s someone to fill it.

    In short, to get from big-picture theory to small-picture practicality, I find it more useful to ask what each of us can do, personally, to foster our interest in better sound and better-sounding music in others. -:)

    • Bandcamp is indeed terrific, especially for artists not tied to label contracts. I buy releases regularly from Oliver Lieb, Stephen Jones and Banco De Gaia. A lossless down of the latter’s recent releases is made available ONLY to those who buy the CD. Clever!

      However, these guys are in the minority. They’re bit players. The larger majority of artists are tied to labels, are they not? And it’s the labels who make the final call on which formats see release. Therein sits my concern: that as streaming service demand ramps up even further, CDs will be left hanging in the breeze. I fear that ultimately labels won’t see the need to press them anymore. Will the the cancelled CD then be substituted by a lossless download? I have my doubts.

  6. i am a vinyl lover, but i have to agree that the current vinyl obsession is very fetish oriented. paying two-three times the amount for an album that you might not even like? or my pet peeve, so called “music lovers” who are only interested in music that is released on vinyl. that’s “format love”.

    • Inflated pricing isn’t a new thing, mind you. Even before this resurgence, when vinyl pressing plants were mostly surviving because of the club/electronica market, records would sell for many times their original price. Only difference – back then the records were “limited editions” because the producers couldn’t afford to have more than a few copies pressed (usually just for distribution to DJs in Ibiza, Detroit, Tokyo, etc), while nowadays their only purpose is to make extra cash off hipster collectors.

  7. What strikes me is that there are no #’s published and widely disseminated showing how the industry changes are affecting the people who matter most – the content creators – the artists (singers, musicians, songwriters, engineers, etc.). Darko you admirably went to great lengths to cover many bases of the industry by presenting & discussing a wide range of data points. And yet there is not one data point that provides a strong indication of the health of the most important aspect of the industry – the content creators. I’m sure Quincy Jones comment was based on his first hand view of content creators struggling today compared to the 70’s/80’s/90’s.

    Audiophiles should care about the health of content creators. I think it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of audiophiles listen to mostly ‘middle-class’ artists and relatively few pop stars. Anecdotal reports suggest that the middle-class content creators have gotten hit hard in recent years. Yet, there seem to be no national/international #’s available to analyze/demonstrate this. That’s a problem.

    Content creators need a voice. Someone needs to organize content creators into a group and find a way to give them a loud voice. IMO – this is a major need and thus, a ripe business opportunity (albeit likely for a non-profit business) – a chance to have a profound impact on culture and positive influence on many lives. Who’s going to step up to the plate? Bill Gates? Pierre Omidyar? Someone??

  8. Dwindling lossless availability of new releases? That’s not the future, that trend started several years ago already.

    For example, I was really annoyed that the soundtrack of the Pixar movie “Up!” from 2009 was only released as lossy digital download.
    Only years later Intrada finally released a physical CD version, but limited to 10.000 copies due to weird legal agreements.

    • You’ve exemplified my point precisely, MM!

      Up – love that movie. Watched it again the other week. It still lands a mighty emotional punch inside the first 15 mins and then again at the end.

  9. As a reveiwer of mainly digital products, I find it refreshingly appropriate that you should lend your perspective to the current vinyl experience. As someone who seeks out analog in preference to digital when at my leisure to relish in the sound, I spend half of my allotted music time looking for the thing that isn’t featured in those graphs, namely, ANALOG, the dead, closeted source behind, what, half ? of the music out there.
    I do find the advantages of digital irrefutable and enjoyable and as much as I’d like to download HiRez, I don’t, I purchase CD because it’s a physical hard copy. So vinyl can do both those things, when its analog. The Vinyl Trend, as I see it, will continue to grow as it satisfies the need for touchability. Touchability is not a trend. But this vinyl trend does not give an analog lover any comfort, because as we all know at least 95% of new vinyl is basically an off shoot of the larger digital download trend and is all about simplifying the supply of production sources and appealing to the touch senses. In my experience, at any rate, when analog is good, it goes one step beyond good digital. Though, I suppose if one were breaking out of iTunes land the glut of this new vinyl will probably be like treasure for the ears. Analog is not relevant to sales, only to ears and depending upon what one hears and dosen’t really lend itself to graph making. Although the Absolute Sound did run some articles on quantifying sound quality, I can’t say I agreed with there conclusions.
    What was the point of your article, sorry. Lack of lossless streaming sources ? Do you like your coke in plastic, aluminum cans or glass bottles ? Technology will fix all our problems, but not before it creats new problems so when when we get fed up with complexity of choices we can reject them, if we’re of a mind to, and relax and return to those simpler solutions or are those still problematic ? Who knows ? I’m finding and appreciating what silence can do for me and my music collection.
    Although, I am thankful that anolog was discovered before digital and thankful for all that used vinyl, not to mention CD’s that aren’t being charted.

    • “What was the point of your article, sorry. Lack of lossless streaming sources ?” <-- it wasn't about a lack of lossless *streaming* but a possible future shortage of lossless digital to own.

  10. Mark Tarone – your comments strike a real nerve and one I have great sympathy for since I’m a content creator as well whose livelihood is entirely tied up with that. The Internet’s teaching by example (to expect content for free) has seriously eroded the prior culture of being willing to pay for content.

    I personally can’t relate *at all* to all the hate over shelling out $20/month to have access to CD-quality streaming. I’m instead perplexed how musicians can make a living at those rates. That’s why I love BandCamp where I know that 90% of my payment goes to the actual content creators. I love streaming as an exposure tool and use it a lot. But the music most important to me I still buy – to own; and to support their makers.

    Given the prevailing winds (gimme, gimme, for nothing), I fear than John could be right envisioning a future where the big labels decide to support the 256/320kbps trend and no longer bother with anything higher. Again, then it’ll be up to the content providers to cry bloody murder and insist on better – or leave their labels, self-publish and/or join access sites like BandCamp.

    • That’s *precisely* what I see in the future: bands and artists tied to labels who have the ultimate say so on which formats get released. Labels will follow customer money though demand. And that demand will slowly shift towards streaming where only a vanishingly small % care about the quality of audio. And I also fear that very few artists care enough about quality themselves to cry foul. Bandcamp is one way around both of these issues but it plays hosts to mainly fledgling artists or those whose day in the sun (and major label ties) have long since passed.

      Essentially, BandCamp serves the margins well but bugger all of anything mainstream. And many audiophiles dig mainstream music. I touched on this in a recent piece about the new Ben Salter album. He’s an artist from the margins. His new record hasn’t followed his other released on to Bandcamp; presumably because of a new licensing deal with ABC Music. It’s on Spotify and ultimately arrived on Tidal too. But with nowhere hosting a lossless download, the CD is/was the only way to go. But will ABC Music even bother with the CD three years from now? The current trends in CD sales casts doubt on that call.

      • A wildcard in predicting the future distribution of recorded music is how much control the major labels will maintain. Streaming services flatten retail marketing & distribution of music. It seems that major label muscle will have less impact in a retail world dominated by streaming (3-5 years away?) than on the current retail market.

        Indie labels such as Thirty Tigers, Lost Highway, Sub Pop, etc. may become a bigger factor (Thirty Tigers had a #1 pop country album release earlier this year, and it seems that artists is sticking w/ Thirty Tigers). Many of those labels are far more artist friendly, and I suspect will continue to offer lossless recordings. For example, EVERY Thirty Tigers release is owned by the artist himself/herself. Thirty Tigers is a 100% distribution model (the artist owns the recordings). Such a model bodes better for lossless releases. Indie labels (distributors) have more time to dedicate to each artist (i.e. release via multiple channels – not just the quick & easy streaming channel). I also believe that most artists will choose to release a lossless version when given the decision-making reins.

        I agree with you that more and more major label releases will be lossy only. I hope that indie labels are able to counter that trend. I think the more important question is: in five years time, will content creators have a strong voice and be able to change current retail culture? As Srajan eludes to, rebellions grow out of ire. It seems the combination of the growing angst that exists in content creators coupled with a flattening of marketing & distribution channels provides the ingredients for a revolution (i.e. a world where artists control retail). Still a long shot, but more possible than ever before.

  11. Just for the sake of clarification. When referring to “digital downloads” you mean: one song/track, right? If so, we´re comparing one song (a single, like in the old days) vs a CD/LP with a whole set of songs and in this case the comparison is not accurate in terms of purchase value.

    When I saw the 1973 graphic, in those days the supremacy of the singles was overwhelming, I´ve concluded that Steve Jobs was spot on: people want/ed to buy singles = one song rather than CDs/LPs (a short sighted mistake made by the record industry when the CD was adopted and the singles were long forgotten).

    • I’m an album guy so when I refer to ‘digital downloads’ I’m talking ’bout albums. The graphs from the RIAA presumably factor in both single downloads and whole albums.

  12. By the way, I know this is slightly off topic but Fremer has been criticizing the Nielsen data on vinyl sales as being grossly underrepresented and estimates it at least at 40 million unit sales, having sent out a survey to all the major vinyl pressing plants himself (see his article on this here:

    That aside, getting back to Mr. Darko’s forecast, I can see the concern and agree that the trend is not our friend for those of us who are fans of SQ and at minimum red-book resolution digital (let alone hi-res digital) but there are also some examples of new streaming services (like Tidal and Qobuz, etc…) which are looking to differentiate their streaming services by providing CD-res options for streaming. Furthermore, the trend towards better quality headphones and portable headphone amps/DACs which also seems to be picking up steam, especially with the younger kids can potentially provide a platform that will enable them to hear the SQ quality difference between lossy and lossless streaming.

    Another potential source of hope is Sony’s push recently, touting hi-res music, as well as some promising news about MQA (now Roon), developed by the folks at Meridian, striking deals with the major labels to enable hi-res music streaming but at lossy rates.

    So while I realize I am clasping at straws here, there are some rays for hope that the future will not be exclusively lossy for music streaming and Mr. Darko says, the CD itself will continue to shrink for a while but will find a resurgence once it’s limited availability makes it cool again. Plus the world of second hand CDs being sold and traded in your local mom and pop music store will remain alive and well.

    • I mentioned lossless streaming in the piece but it doesn’t address the issue of lossless material one can buy and own outright. I dig cloud services like Tidal/Qobuz for discovery and playing *different* stuff that I like but don’t wish to buy. However, there’s a core library of content to which I require the certainty of 24/7 access. Would I trust Tidal with that? Nope, not on your nelly I wouldn’t.

  13. An interesting article but I can’t see high quality digital recordings going away in the United States if there is a market for them.

    Quincy Jones has point though, how can the music industry be healthy when it has declined 50% since 1999 and has been essentially flat the last five years? Healthy industries don’t have the average American spending three times less on their products than they did ten ago. The recording industry does.

    Finally, what did Noel Stookey say in his interview that you would disagree with? The interviewer, Jason Knott asked the question about vinyl being a fad and Noel responded yes that he thought digital sound quality would surpass vinyl and no because people like to read line notes and hold something in their hands. He made some excellent points about what digital recording and playback could do to convey the emotions of folk music.

    • I didn’t disagree or agree with Stookey but merely pointed out a) what he had said and b) suggested that it might have been a cynical attempt to grab a headline. You’d be amazed how many musicians suddenly want to share a broader opinion on the music industry when they’ve a record about to hit the shops.

      Roger Waters is about to reissue Amused to Death and so we see this:

      Ben Gibbard gave an opinion on Tidal the same week DCFC’s new record hit the stores:

      I realise artists are more likely to do press when they’ve something to sell but I wonder if we’d have heard from Stokey if he didn’t have a new record to push. Moreover, dramatic pull quotes make for more clicks.

      Also consider this: music streaming UNDERprices music. I don’t think many of us here would disagree. But then consider the CD’s hey day in the late 90s when many CD releases were OVERpriced. The market has overcorrected, sure, but the switch from overpriced CDs to underpriced cloud services could go some way to explaining the revenue drop seen by the industry as a whole.

  14. Don’t we just hate being a passenger on the bus, thinking we’re going in one direction then the big boys go with the masses and turn left down bottom line street. Being a late developer in digital audio terms I had high hopes for HI res as more of the popular artists were re issuing audiophile quality music , Tidal is trying to market itself as THE hi res store but oh the cost. I have a big collection of CD’s now ripped in zero lossless FLAC so I would find it hard to justify the annual subscription, sure I would if I had the money however we are now at a crossroads. CD dead and taking HI res with it? possibly . In the end audiophiles are and have always been a minority so goodness knows where the bus will go next.

  15. Firstly – a big Thank You to John and DAR for a wonderful read.

    I’m personally hopeful for a future where digital downloads are managed menu-like. If you want “xyz” you pay one price – if you want something more (presumably better) you pay another. All of this requires investment on the part of the artist and label to make a-la-carte ordering get served exactly as you like. You have to invest on the front end with recordings and mastering done to the highest attainable levels. Then you can offer all sorts of quality choices – but you need that super high res master to get and give (sell) it all.

    Most of us love to listen to our LP’s at home in an unhurried and unvarnished manner. Many have a preference, but what I’ve learned manning our showplace here in Colorado is that our listeners (no matter how steeped they may be) arrive with some downloaded something or another. Be it A&K’s or Sony’s or something — they all show up with their music “in-tow”. This is the world we are living in now.

    I really hope for a future where the listener makes his or her choice based on THEIR NEED (not necessarily our “industry” need) and they enjoy their music appropriately. If you want higher bandwidth – more “resolution”, you simply pay for it. Sure there is some of that going on now, but not nearly enough. It’s all about choice.

    The take away for me from this article is that the times are changing. LP will live forever because it’s a lot like Chicken Soup for the audiophile soul. People love it – it’s physical and emotional and therefore it will continue to evoke all kinds of feelings in all of us. I see very young people talking about vinyl like never before. Keepers of the flame (like Michael F) are surely paving (and in some cases repaving) roads they have traveled for a long time. Is the journey the reward… I think so, except if your Chicken Soup is the canned variety. I want homemade – I want extra carrots and I’d like real chicken fat in the base. I guess what I’m saying is I want it my way…………… just like I’d like to order my music the same way.

  16. John, whether people who read DAR think music streaming underprices music is not relevant, too small a group. The people who run the music industry in the United States grew up in area where a prevailing economic theory was large corporations can control markets and pricing (see John Kenneth Galbraith). Americans always liked consuming single songs and were forced to buy albums in the CD era. Millennials in the U.S. reject the marketing that worked on Baby Boomers and Gen X. They insist on consuming music the way they want in the formats they want and pricing that makes sense to them.

    Whether the music industry can adapt to Millennials being the largest consumer group in the U.S. is doubtful. Millennials know better than any previous generation how little the music industry cares about the people who make music. Support an industry that pays the creators of the music so little why?

    • I pointed to music’s current underpricing to point out how it contrasts with the 90’s overpricing. Nothing more. Indeed, it’s a troubling scenario when artists point to a lack of proper remuneration from streaming, often mistaking the gatekeeper (Spotify et al) for those who are really keeping the larger slice: the record labels. The debate about how much artists see from streaming rarely acknowledges that it’s almost always a direct result of the terms of their record label contract and not just how much each streaming service pays per stream.

  17. Great piece Darko… I think you are right about lossless shelf life. Its easy for the few who live in the Hifi, Head-fi, Audiophile bubble to prioritize and extoll the virtues of lossless content but virtually all of my friends use Pandora, Spotify or the like and I don’t see it as my job or right to proselytize them. I may think I am helping them on the path to better sound when in reality all they hear is “You’re doing it all wrong!”. I’m not selling a religion or a way of life…. It’s not that important all things being equal. I’d be more inclined to tell them about a band I like than Hifi and hi-res. IF all lossless content disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow… Music would still be important.

    And I think there is some truth in Neil Young et als claim. The vinyl ‘renaissance’ does have an aesthetic component to it that is tied to the heritage brand resurgence. Red Wing Shoes, Selvedge Denim, and a turntable with LP’s. They are selling LP’s at Urban Outfitters. You know its a fad when Urban Outfitters starts stocking it. Sales are up nearly 40% but that only constitutes 1.6 Million units. CD’s still sold nearly 60 Million units and people talk about it like it is a dead format…

    I personally love the devaluation of CD’s. I can buy CD’s all day long at Amazon for $5 a disk, rip it into my computer and sell it used to my local shop for $3… I’m out $2. And I think YouTube and Vevo are an outstanding content source… I can watch Vampire Weekend live, Blur at Hyde Park, The Strokes at Coachella, I may give a few bits on ultimate resolution but running it through my system it still sounds fantastic. Sometimes all the worrying about the nits and nats of resolution and hardware and format is a lot of noise that gets in the way of enjoying music and concerts… regardless of the format.

  18. Hey Darko, I just want to say this is a great report (best you’ve ever done thus far?) and I really want to pour over the data. I’ve gone over the RIAA reports but you cut it a few other ways here. Thanks buddy!

  19. Nice, balanced article, with fascinating stats. While I adore LPs and certainly am on the side of Mike Fremer, et al, I have spent way too many hours pointing out (in arguments and in print) that claims of a vinyl revival need to be placed into context, as has been done here with hard numbers.

    No, LPs will never again sell in unit sales matching the 1970s, when they were the prime format. No, they will not stop streaming. As I always say to hipsters who discovered vinyl last week (and who probably prefer used vinyl anyway), and to analogue fetishists: last year’s TOTAL global LP sales were less than the Beatles did on their own in one month in 1965. When people say “Sales are up 400%!!”, so what? The TOTAL sales are still only – what? 1/20th of CD sales or downloads?

    Please, call vinyl what it is: a special interest group, a cult, purist backlash, retro fetishism, recalcitrance, Luddism, whatever. FACT: Heinz Lichtenegger of Pro-Ject – the world’s largest turntable manufacturer – confirmed that he sells 100,000-120,000 decks per year. Back in the day, Garrard ALONE sold 2m per annum! And turntable sales are surely as indicative a measure of the revival as LP sales.

    Also noted in recent articles, CDs are looking like incredible value. For me, my latest rant is that it’s not too late for people to start embracing that most sorely neglected format: SACD. Chad Kassem, MoFi, the Japanese majors, are all releasing stunning stuff – even to analogue loving’ ears.

    Great work, John!

    • Thanks Ken – very kind of you to say so. ‘A special interest group’ is a neat way to describe vinyl heads. Less charitable folk might refer to them as ‘special needs’. 😉

    • Personally, I don’t foresee much growth for this hard format beyond the audiophile niche it currently occupies.