As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves once again taking the yearly pulse of the vinyl record market. Are sales increasing? Is the vinyl comeback plateauing? Are records still being called a fad or is the physical market here to stay? All those questions we can better answer once we have year-end Nielsen numbers. In the meantime, we learned some great news! In the UK, for the first time since being tracked, LP sales have outsold digital downloads! You read that right! The format that was supposed to kill the physical music market once and for all just got overtaken by what many consider to be a relic.
“Take that digital!” That was our first reaction, as we are sure it was the same among many in the vinyl community. After years of promoting the format in efforts to legitimize it again to the mainstream, we finally felt although we had found a foothold.
However, before we go claiming victory over the digital download, let’s look at exactly why it happened.
First, the music industry needs to stop considering the digital download a legitimate or profitable format. Streaming killed the download. It absolutely obliterated it. In fact, the digital download might have the shortest life span of any music format, although its final death date is unknown. Why? In an effort to once again rob music of its monetary value, labels jumped on the streaming bandwagon in favor of exposure. As more services sprang up, competition got fierce and labels and streaming services quickly realized that few were willing to go beyond the free ad-supporters tiers the services offer. Profits dwindled, companies folded, and once again abysmal royalties followed. However, they haven’t stopped. Labels continue to look for the non-existent payout from free streaming entities, only to find miniscule royalties. Consumers fight to find free music, opting to jump from service to service, chasing free and exclusive content. It’s no wonder they have abandoned the digital download. No longer slaves to the hard drive space, and with unending bandwidth, streaming is set to dominate.
Unfortunately, the streaming market is nearly impossible to measure and even more difficult to compare the numbers to vinyl sales. The reason is that streaming generates so little revenue that it’s impossible to find any reasonable correlation. So, before everyone starts thinking that vinyl killed the download, they need to understand it was another enemy that did the deed.
However, that doesn’t mean that vinyl isn’t reaping the benefits. While the streaming and download markets have been duking it out for pennies, vinyl is raking in dollars and producing real paydays for record stores, artists and labels. In fact, vinyl The New York Post reported earlier this year that vinyl sales accounted for $416 million in royalties in 2015 as compared to the ad supported tiers of Spotify, YouTube, Tidal and Apple Music that came in in $385 million. Those are hard numbers for the naysayers to swallow and 2016 seems right on track to do that same.
So, with the digital download on its death bed, will the war switch to streaming vs. vinyl? Absolutely not. As we have discussed before, there is a mutually beneficial market for both formats. In the end, is anyone really surprised by these numbers? Vinyl has remained the superior format for many reasons. When it comes to artist and label payouts, vinyl will likely continue to reign supreme. When it comes to ownership, vinyl will dominate. When it comes to quality, vinyl has already won. While the media scratches their heads wondering why vinyl won’t die, the format faithful revel in the facts that they knew all along. Vinyl isn’t going anywhere.
So yes, “Take that digital!”