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Back to the future: Vinyl record sales double in '08, CDs down

What's old is new again when it comes to audio storage

January 2, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Audiophiles have long argued that vinyl records offer better sound quality than CDs or MP3s, but their stoic loyalty in the face of change was seen as little more than a nostalgic bias during the 25 years in which digital recordings came to dominate the music industry. In recent years, however, sales of LPs -- that's short for long-playing records, kids -- have more than doubled online and are regaining overall market share, thanks to new converts looking for more than they can find in an MP3 selling for 99 cents online.

In 2008, 1.88 million vinyl albums were purchased, more than in any other year since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking LP sales in 1991. The previous record was in 2000, when 1.5 million LP albums were sold. More than two out of every three vinyl albums bought in 2008 were purchased at an independent music store, according to SoundScan.

Vinyl record sales rose 14% between 2006 and 2007, from 858,000 to 990,000. In contrast, CD sales plummeted over the past three years, from 553.4 million in 2006 to 360.6 million in 2008. MP3 sales grew from 32.6 million to 65.8 million during the same time period, according to SoundScan.

 Newbury Comics store manager Dan Phipps said his store's expanded vinyl record section is geared toward younger buyers drawn to the aesthetic value of a an LP
Newbury Comics' store manager Dan Phipps holds a vinyl copy of Beck's Modern Guilt.
Industry observers say vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because new buyers are discovering the value of owning albums, with their cover art, large liner notes and warm sound.

"There's nothing like a vinyl record. It's analog. It sounds as close as you're going to get to the artist. If you're that guy who sits in that optimum space in your living room, you're definitely going to hear the difference," said Steven Sheldon, president of Los Angeles-based Rainbo Records.

"Now, with that said, 99% of the public listens to music as a background off of iPods and everything else," he said. "That's by far the worst sound quality, but it's also the most convenient -- and convenience sells."

Rainbo Records, which has been pressing vinyl LPs since 1955, doubled its production from 2006 to 2007 and more than doubled record output this past year. The company currently presses 25,000 albums a day; that's up from a low of about 6,000 to 8,000 a day in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, when CDs were in their heyday. Since then, there's been a steady increase in vinyl production. Surprisingly, Sheldon doesn't attribute that rise to Gen Xers or even baby boomers, but to 13-to-24-year-olds rediscovering the aesthetic value of record collections.

"They were brought up on virtual everything. Their games were on the computer or on the TV. Their music was in a box," he said. "I think they also do recognize the difference in sound, but I think holding that 12-by-12 piece of art and holding that record in their hand is creating the buzz."



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