I’ve been slow at offering a report on vinyl sales for 2014. There’s a good reason for this: there were plenty of others willing to get there first. Stories about vinyl are now mainstream, just as the product is itself. The vinyl market is no longer niche; it is an established part of the music economy. In 2014 vinyl album sales in the UK topped a million. They were 65.1% up on the previous year, eventually selling at 1.29m units. According to PIAS, one of the UK’s main distributors of physical formats, vinyl now makes up 20% of their market. Meanwhile, in the US, 9.2 million vinyl albums were sold last year. This represented a 52% increase on 2013. More significantly, these albums accounted for more than 6% of all physical album sales.
What needs to be borne in mind is that vinyl albums are expensive. They can make people money. Edwin Schroter, managing director of PIAS, has acknowledged that ‘at the higher dealer price this is good business to be had’. He also attributes the rise in the number of independent record shops to the growth in vinyl sales.
This type of success doesn’t go unnoticed. In last year’s annual report, I noted that independent record labels were disproportionately successful within the vinyl market, accounting for nearly 60% of the trade. The majors are now raising their game. 2014’s Record Store Day was underscored by complaints that some indie labels couldn’t get their product pressed up for it on time. The shelves were instead filled with titles from the major’s stars, among them One Direction and Herbert von Karajan. This activity led to complaints from indie distributors that the day had been ‘appropriated by major labels’.
The major record labels went on to dominate vinyl’s top 10 as well. In 2014, all but two of the top ten were on majors. Number one was Pink Floyd’s The Endless River. This was in contrast to 2013, when indie labels released all but three of the best-selling vinyl albums.
Music Week published 2014’s sales figures on 9 January 2015. In the same edition of the journal there was an interview with Tony Wadsworth, marking the end of his tenure as chairman of BPI. Prior to looking after the UK record industry’s trade body, Wadsworth spent 26 years with EMI, where he rose to the position of CEO. This pillar of the UK music establishment has marked his semi-retirement by joining the indie record retailer Sister Ray, with whom he has set up a vinyl-only branch of the shop. In undertaking this move Wadsworth has indicated that he was in it for the love of music all along. He’s also provided further evidence that there is good business to be had.