In 2021 the vinyl record sales surpassed for the first time in 30 years the CD. According to MRC Data’s annual report on the state of the music industry, produced in association with the magazine BillboardLast year, 41.7 million vinyl records and 40.6 million CDs were sold in the United States.
Vinyl record sales grew 51.4% in the United States between 2020 and 2021. As the format has grown over the past decade, the production chain has run into a number of issues that we’ve previously addressed in this space. . The few record-making plants in the world are stretched thin by demand for records from artists across the spectrum. To this is also added the scarcity of raw materials to manufacture them, which has raised the prices of records. Many vinyl releases by independent artists released in 2021 were left in limbo due to this disruption in the production chain.
The physical format in the music industry has seemed like an endangered species for four decades. Like polar bears and arctic penguins, the extinction of the physical format was thought to come first with the cassette. Then it would happen with the compact disc, the MP3, the digital stores and subsequently the streaming. None of that has really happened.
“Home taping is killing the music industry” was the slogan used by the British Phonographic Industry in the eighties in his campaign to discredit the popularization of the cassette. A format that apocalyptically represented the end of the music industry because it meant that people would stop buying records overnight.
In the nineties, the compact disc came to displace cassettes for a time and acetates had become an artifact of the past that were in a parallel dimension full of dust. In 1999, the highest point of the compact disc, NSYNC sold in its first week 2.4 million compact discs of its album No Strings Attached. Last year, the artist who sold the most CDs in its first week of release was Adele with 378,000 copies of her fourth album 30. In second place was Taylor Swift with 146,700 CDs sold in the first week of the Red (Taylor’s Version).
According to the MRC Data report, CD sales had their first growth in 17 years. In 2021, 40.6 million compact discs were sold, only 400,000 discs more than in 2020 (40.2 million).
At the beginning of the century, digital formats appeared on the scene and these dethroned compact discs. The music megastores of the big cities disappeared and everything seemed to go towards the digital future. For some, the music of the first decade of this new century was stored in some digital player that can no longer be accessed because there is no compatible cable or a laptop that today has suffered the passage of programmed obsolescence. Digital sales for a moment seemed like the future. It was streaming that came to reconfigure the field and with it helped push the renaissance of vinyl among the nostalgic and romantic, of those that appear in the novels of Nick Hornby.
Although in 2020 there was an increase in sales of vinyl records and in the CD, physical album sales accounted for only 9% and digital album sales only accounted for 3% of the pie. The reproduction of music through streaming platforms continues to account for 81% of the entire music industry and that remains a reality that will not change.
The same nostalgics who a decade ago returned with great enthusiasm to vinyl seem today to have sought to rediscover the practicality and charm of the compact disc. But there are no more signs that we are finally witnessing the renaissance of compact discs, these shiny artifacts that have kept our musical memories for several decades.
Operations coordinator for El Economista online