Have the Tables Turned? The Rise of Vinyl or Fall of the Downloads?

06 March 2017
By Sergey Bludov, SVP Media & Entertainment


The tables have turned with a revival of interest in vinyl records following a decade of digital music dominance. Whether through efforts made by musical purists, trendsetting nostalgic hipsters or initiatives such as Record Store Day, the LP resurgence appears to be a big hit as sales of LPs, also called vinyl and records, continued an 11-year upward trend, reaching sales of 13 million in 2016 – the largest number since 1991.  Some of this recent growth has been attributed to the deaths of legendary music luminaries, with fans looking to buy their music in its original format to recreate what it would have been like when these albums were first released. However, today’s biggest artists are embracing vinyl as well. Taylor Swift put out an LP version of her hit “1989” and Justin Bieber released a 12-inch picture record for his single “Purpose”.

People may think that millennials want all their music to be delivered only via the download model. However, there is an authentic experience to be gained when you pull out a record from its flashy cover and listen to it on a turntable (crackling sounds and all). You hear music the way it was produced, and there is a feeling of connection with the music and the artist. The vinyl resurrection has also created a market for hybrid technology such as record players that have USB ports for digitally recording vinyl.

So, what does this mean to the digital music industry?

According to Tim Ingham,”Music downloads will be dead by 2020.” With reports that single-track download sales are down by 42% since their peak a few years ago – there is a real chance this format is on it’s way to the same fate as eight-tracks and cassette tapes”. This may not be all that surprising when you think about it. Initially believed to be a cheaper way to consume music, a typical song download on iTunes costs approximately $1.29, which can add up quickly when you start purchasing all the latest songs for your newest playlist.

These days, it seems that music sales dollars are being siphoned off on two main fronts. One is the purchase of vinyl, and the other is the increase in adoption of music streaming services. Americans used on-demand streaming platforms, such as Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Music, to listen to 431 billion songs in 2016.  The advantages of streaming are many; unlimited listening to millions of tracks of music and paying subscribers can also download tracks. The disadvantage is the fact that if a person stops paying for the service, they lose the streaming but also lose the associated downloads.

This brings us back to vinyl. Most of the technologies that we have used in the past have been eclipsed by the remarkable technology that we use today. However, as we live in an increasingly digital world, many consumers, not just audiophiles, yearn for more tangible and unique experiences. Vinyl records are projected to sell 40 million units in 2017, with sales nearing the $1 billion benchmark for the first time this millennium. And experts say don’t be surprised if vinyl continues to see noticeable growth in the years to come. To quote the  popular Canadian Rock Band, The Barenaked Ladies, seems like “Everything Old is New Again!”

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