Vinyl

How much longer can the vinyl boom last? There are questions.

[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]

I know exactly how many single compact discs I bought this year: Zero. None. The only new CDs to enter my collection came as part of big box sets that feature rarities from The Who, The Tragically Hip, Pink Floyd, and a few others. When I wanted to hear any album, new or old, I simply fired up a streaming service.

On the other hand, I lost count of the number of new vinyl records that were added to my collection. Dozens, for sure. Some were brand new while others were bought used at independent shops and record shows. I bought into the vinyl resurrection so hard that I bought a brand new two-channel stereo system with a turntable just so I could listen to my new records.

This seems to mirror Canada as a whole. According to Luminate, the counter of music sales in Canada, the market for compact discs continues to shrink. One of the very last sales reports of 2023 shows that 12.7 per cent fewer compact discs were sold this year with the latest raw number being 1,898,738 units. Think about that for a second: In a country of 40 million, less than two million CDs from all eras were sold across the nation.

Streaming is a big part of this decline. On-demand audio streams in Canada are over 139 billion listens (yes, 139 billion), an increase of 15.3 per cent from 2023. For the week ending Dec. 14 alone, we streamed over three billion songs, 18 per cent more than the same week last year. That’s an all-time high.

Read the rest here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38000 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

7 thoughts on “How much longer can the vinyl boom last? There are questions.

  • Yes, prices are going to kill vinyl. The average price seems to be in the $45CDN per title, so two records, with tax, $100.

    A good chunk of my records are purchased direct from artists, so add $30USD for shipping.

    Used vinyl, $30 for a single title on vinyl in questionable shape?!?!?!

    This is unsustainable and like record companies, greed seems to rule the market .

    Reply
  • Ah, yes, vinyl… with less possible dynamic range, more background noise, more cleaning required, and more expensive!
    Sounds “better ?” than good digital audio. (riiiiiight…)
    That said, I will admit it is a more engaging format from digging through bins at a real store to sitting down to listen and read the cover.
    Now, about this possible resurgence in cassettes….YIKES!

    Reply
  • I like to have the actual CD, or vinyl record, all though I never got back into vinyl, even though I have a nice turntable (Rega) I bought in the early 80″s. New vinyl cost 30 or 40 dollars on average, RIP OFF! Buy the CD for 10 dollars.

    Streaming is good, we have spotify, but I think putting on a vinyl record or cd is better. You really listen to the whole album, like the good old days.

    I hope the hard copies of music don’t disappear .

    Keep up the great work Alan. Love your content!

    Reply
  • I can’t even afford the $10.99/mo to stop my Spotify ads. I just want to listen to an album without an ad break after every track.
    It’s still Christmas as far as I’m concerned (meaning, my birthday month) in case anyone is feeling generous. Like the stranded stranger I gave a ride home on Christmas Eve, she gave me a chocolate orange.
    Enter 2024, but first an ad from some sponsor.

    Reply
  • It is the combination of overpricing and variants that will kill vinyl.

    There is no reason a standard LP should be more than a CD nowadays, and especially when a lot of them sound like trash and are made from recycled vinyl. And having different colored vinyl for 5 different stores, each with a different “bonus” track, is also just a big “screw you” to the customer- “Yeah, we know you’ll buy anything with your favorite artist’s name on it, so here is a bunch of garbage you won’t ever play anyway.” Thanks guys.

    Reply
  • Albums may yield more revenue, but it’s obviously relative, since they also cost substantially more to produce. A run of 1000 bare-bones black vinyl might have a unit cost of $8 a copy, but shorter-run pressings, which are more typical of the demand of emerging artists, might easily be twice that, and they take months to produce. CDs have unit cost of $2-$4 if you’re pressing 500-1000 units, and take mere weeks to produce. The vinyl stats may also include singles — CD singles being largely a thing of the past, but 7” and 12” being retail staples.

    SRP aside, inflated sticker prices are only part of the dynamic.

    Half of those who buy vinyl don’t own record players, which means that they are either buying it to look at the artifact, are perhaps planning to buy a turntable in the future, or they are speculators flipping product on the resale market. Industry research has determined that so-called “super fans” are powering a “buy-to-own” rather than “buy-to-listen” trend: They use vinyl purchases as social signals of their fandom.

    Industry data also reveals that 80% of all music consumption is done via streaming services, and that 90% of streamed music is catalogue content. So that’s not especially encouraging for artists releasing new music. Record Store Day offerings, which are reliably thick with novelty reissues and anniversary editions, suggest that vinyl consumption might also be dominated by catalogue music. That’s also common in the wider industry: In mid-December, the top five albums on Billboard’s vinyl chart were all Taylor Swift albums — 2023 re-recordings of 2010’s Speak Now and 2014’s 1989, as well as 2022’s Midnights, 2020’s Folklore and 2019’s Lover.

    All of the above may be good news for the established industry superstars, but is considerably less so for new and emerging artists who may never be able to make music a full-time gig.

    Adding to this, there’s another dynamic to consider.

    In 2023, RSD offered around 400+ new releases all dropped on a single day, giving the week of RSD an out-sized footprint that amounted to almost 25% of the year’s total vinyl sales. That pig in the python throws the pressing industry into disarray, with the RSD production schedule creating delays and shortages globally, dampening retailers’ enthusiasm for vinyl releases on the other 364 days of the year.

    Reply
  • Also, that math: Dividing a population of 40.5 million (let’s call it 36.5 million for the 10+ demo) by 1,898,738 CD unit sales + 1,257,435 Vinyl unit sales means that 1 in 10 Canadians bought physical music this year.

    Boom indeed.

    As for Canadians’ 139 billion+ on-demand audio streams, there again the numbers beg to be unpacked.

    Assuming that the figure does not include audio content like news or podcasts and applying the album equivalent ratio of 1500:1 leaves us with a streaming consumption deemed to be on par with 93 million unit sales. Divide that by the 36.5 million Canadians aged 10+ and you get an annual per capita streaming consumption of two and half “album equivalents”, an average of at least 30 seconds of 10 tracks per day per person or at least five minutes of music a day.

    Except that the creator-side revenue associated with that activity is not really on par.

    To the average artist on Spotify, 1500 streams would mean less than $5 in revenue, and as harsh as Spotify is (they infamously plan to eliminate payments for songs with less than 1,000 annual streams starting in early 2024), they’re not as bleak as it gets.

    The global average revenue rate for DSPs is apparently something like 0.2 cents per stream, which would leave artists with $3 upside per “album equivalent” sale, which is maybe a third of what they’d make by selling physical product.

    Reply

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