true talk

The internet has changed how we consume things in many, many ways and that includes how we buy and listen to music. Songs have become easily accessible and very affordable. Just a few clicks of the mouse or tap of your fingers, you can listen to your favorite tunes. What a great time to be alive…

While it has its obvious pros, it also has its cons and one of it is the fading appreciation and demand for physical albums. It takes away sales and endangers the physical formats like CDs, vinyl records and cassette tapes.

What’s surprising is that we all expected all physical formats to decrease in sales but ALAS! Vinyl has been steadily going up!

Just take a look at this sales chart from 2011- 2020.

Vinyl sales VS CD sales

U.S. Recorded Music Revenues by Format

YEAR VINYL SALES CD SALES
2011 $119.4M $3.1B
2012 $160.7M $2.5B
2013 $210.7M $2.1B
2014 $243.8M $1.8B
2015 $333.4M $1.4B
2016 $355.4M $1.1B
2017 $388.5M $1.0B
2018 $419.2M $695.8M
2019 $479.5M $630.7M
2020 $619.6M $483.3M

Source: Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)

If you analyze the table carefully you will eventually see a trend for both sales.

Vinyl sales, slowly and steadily, are going up. In fact, last years’ U.S vinyl sales was the first time in 34 years that it surpassed CD sales. 

Impact of streaming

You may have also noticed on the table above that the year 2020 had around 5.1B more revenues than 2011 but both vinyl and CDs are not even taking the lead on the 2020 sales. Both not even contributing to the sales in billions but in millions only.

This is due to the emergence of streaming. In 2011, CD’s were leading in the music sales however, in 2016, streaming took the lead and has not let go of the throne up until 2020. And even after a few years from now, I think streaming will still be a thing.

Source: RIAA

Who wouldn’t think the same as me, when last year’s revenues were 83% from streaming? 

But why is streaming affecting physical sales though? Well, streaming is way easier to do when listening to music compared to using physical albums. A minute or two of searching through the internet and a couple of taps and press, and you can already listen to your favorite tracks or albums.

Listening to music from physical formats, on the other hand, will need a lot more effort searching through your collection of CDs or vinyl records. What’s more is that you can’t even shuffle your tracks unlike with streaming.

The vinyl resurgence

Vinyl records are making a comeback and it was clearly evident in its increasing sales for the past few years. And according to CNBC, vinyl records had a year-over-year sale increase of 18.5 percent. 

This was disagreed upon by experts as they noted that official numbers do not include sales from band websites, sales made from tours, second-hand sales, and independent record stores sales. 

In conclusion, experts think that vinyl sales have increased in a greater percent than what is being reported.

If you are wondering about who made this vinyl resurgence phenomenon happen, then that would be the 45% people who were teenagers in the 80’s and 90’s.

They might have missed the format or think it’s more superior. But what impresses me the most is that the so-called “internet generation” has a hand in this resurgence. Though they may not be the majority, they still played a big role.

Moreover, many new artists have been releasing their albums in custom vinyl pressings which contributes to its resurgence, too. There’s been many orders of custom vinyl records for indie music artists due to this resurgence.

And when you look at the genre in which these custom vinyl pressings are done you can see that there is a variety across countries. We have the U.S. with rock bands dominating the vinyl scene, while Germany has techno and rave renewing their interest in vinyl records. Another one is Britain where alternative rock and Brit-pop led to the comeback of vinyl records.

What about the CD?

Well as what was inferred above, CDs may fade away in the background a few years from now. 

You might be asking why it is possible when vinyl records proved that it can. Here are some reasons why we think CDs are not making a comeback:

#1 CDs ARE LESS FUN TO PLAY

As much as CDs and vinyl records are the same for being physical formats, they are very different when we talk about how they are played. Unlike vinyl records that need to be flipped once in a while, CDs do not need that much attention. You’ll just have to put the CD on the player and there will be not much of an effort after.

I know it may sound hypocritical, when convenience is what streaming made it so popular today. However, people have this mindset that if they were to exert an effort on physical albums why not go all the way. Instead of bothering to get up, set the CD on its player, and listen to music, much like how we stream music, why not have the fun of flipping the record and dropping the needle? 

In addition to this tactile factor is the fact that turntables do not hide away beautifully pressed vinyl records unlike in CD players where they cover the CD discs.

#2 THE CD HAS SMALLER DIMENSIONS, THUS LESS COLLECTIBLE

This is another reason why we think CDs are not coming back. CD packaging just has dimensions that are too small when compared to vinyl record packaging. CD cases with their j-cards or cardboards have limited spaces that letters are printed in tiny font sizes that make it hard to read for buyers. When we compare it to vinyl jackets that can have artworks or album covers printed in big sizes, the scale is just too different.

In addition to this is that vinyl records also have inner vinyl record sleeves that can also be printed with whatever the artist wants. Vinyl albums can also hold inclusions like booklets, posters and more unlike CD cases which can only have booklets with texts that are too small to read.

#3 ANALOG PLAYBACK IS BETTER FOR MOST

This has been an ongoing debate between people who love digital playback (CD) and people who love the analog one (Vinyl record). For some people, they prefer the analog one because of how the record is an exact replica of the sound the artist made. Unlike digital playbacks that only have snippets of the sound wave, analog is continuous and can be considered the sound wave itself.

However, there are some people who have come out and said that such differences between the two are not noticeable at all if you do not have well trained ears. But while some love the perfection they hear from the analog format, some also love its imperfections too.

TLDR: Vinyl is way cooler than CDs because it has more value (you can sell it for 10x its price), and it’s a nice memorabilia. It probably has better sound quality, too. Those who use streaming as the main way of consuming music (aka all of us), want to have the OG physical format. CDs are more flimsy and they look like clutter than a valuable art piece.