The latest recording industry data (for 2007) is out from the RIAA and shows a decline in CD sales, an increase in digital download sales and - surprise? - an increase in vinyl sales. Claims of a comeback in the vinyl LP have been much ballyhooed of late by some in the media, and the latest statistics have already prompted an "I told you so" from at least one vinyl advocate.
Wired columnist Eliot Van Buskirk writes in his latest post ("RIAA Admits Vinyl Sales Are Climbing (Updated)") that with the latest report, "the vinyl resurgence has been officially acknowledged by the RIAA." This follows an earlier article of his from late last year ("Vinyl May Be Final Nail in CD's Coffin") in which he breathlessly reported on vinyl's "sonic superiority" over digital formats and how it was "poised to re-enter the mainstream."
Woah, not so fast. Do the numbers actually support this claim? I decided to graph the data for a better perspective. Here's an overview of vinyl album shipments in the U.S. from 1982 through last year (click to enlarge):
Okay, so maybe some vinyl advocates have gotten a little carried away with their hyperbole. Perhaps a closer look at the more recent data will show some signs of a nascent vinyl resurgence. Here's a look at vinyl album shipments in the U.S. since 1990 (click to enlarge):
So vinyl shipments upticked a bit last year, from 900,000 albums shipped to 1.3 million - hardly significant, even when just compared with the past few years. And of course one up year doesn't constitute a trend, nor warrant predictions of a vinyl "resurgence."
How does this fit in with the big picture? To put things in an overall perspective, I added CD shipments and digital album downloads to the graph (click to enlarge):
This graph speaks for itself. Looking at it, it's interesting to speculate when digital album downloads will exceed CD shipments (single downloads were already almost 810 million in 2007). It looks like it could happen by the end of the decade.
And as for vinyl? Well, the best case that vinyl advocates can make, based on the current RIAA data, is that maybe vinyl sales are bottoming. After all, how much lower can they go?
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