Thursday, 30 January 2014

Vinyl: A History of 2013

Vinyl records keep on keeping on. In 2013 sales of vinyl in the UK rose by 101.2%. Around 780,000 LPs and EPs were sold, the highest tally for 16 years. In America the sales increase was less (32%) but the sales volume was greater (6 million LPs were sold). And while sales of vinyl albums went up, sales of other formats went down. In the UK total album sales fell by 6.4%. In the US the decline was 8.4%. Vinyl also made a stand against corporate hegemony. In the UK, independent record labels made up nearly 60% of the vinyl market, and in both countries indie acts on indie labels accounted for seven of the top ten selling vinyl LPs.
            There are different ways that you can cut the figures, however. Vinyl’s stature looks less impressive when it comes to overall album sales. In America the format was responsible for just 2% of albums sold. In Britain, despite the doubling of vinyl’s sales figures, the format’s share of the retail market was 0.8%. It is also important to note that last year not all records were sold. 2013 was the year in which digital streaming truly came of age in the UK. As with vinyl, streaming figures doubled. Unlike vinyl, streaming figures could be counted in the billions. The volume of tracks streamed from ad-funded and subscription services in the UK rose to 7.4 billion.
And vinyl only made a small dent in the major record labels’ armour. In Britain, the three remaining majors - Universal, Sony and Warner - had 73% of the overall albums market and 77% of the singles market. America, perhaps surprisingly, was less centralized. The big three record companies nevertheless still accounted for 65.4% of sales. The major labels’ compilation albums also did well. There were three Now That’s What I Call Music! hits collections released in the UK in 2013, each of which beat vinyl’s total sales on its own. Now! 86 was the highest achiever, with 1,111,701 sales. In comparison, Britain’s best-selling vinyl LP, AM by the Arctic Monkeys, sold 14,490 copies.
Vinyl, then, still remained a niche product. But the media didn’t treat it this way. In the news reports about industry figures for 2013, vinyl gained at least as much attention as streaming. It also retained strong support from those working in the industry: throughout the year artists, label owners, retailers and industry trade bodies were all outspoken in their support for the product. There might be more to this than nostalgia, though. The figures above all relate to items sold. When it comes to income generated, we can gain a truer sense of vinyl’s worth. Although Britain streamed 7.4 billion tracks last year, this vast activity generated only £103m in revenue. Vinyl records casually managed to generate £12m, despite racking up just over three-quarters of a million items sold. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the industry wants it to keep on keeping on. 

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