Flat rotating discs were the main way we got our music for decades. With the exception of a spike in sales of pre-recorded cassettes in the early 80s following the introduction of the Sony Walkman and all its copycats, vinyl was king until 1987. It was that year that a new format called the compact disc eclipsed vinyl–not in the number of units sold, but in the dollar value of those sales. (Given that CDs cost twice that of a vinyl LP in those days, that wasn’t terribly surprising.)
For the next quarter-century(ish), the CD ruled and vinyl was driven near extinction. Records were seen as old, dusty, and irrelevant. Digital was the way forward, baby!
And it was until Napster and its ilk came along starting in 1999. By 2001, sales of physical music–which is to say CDs–had started to decline and the format was on its way to niche status.
The future of music was still exclusively digital until 2008 when vinyl, a format that had been given up for dead, started coming back into vogue, thanks largely to the efforts of the people who started Record Store Day. More than a decade of double-digit growth followed as new generations discovered the advantages and allure of vinyl.
Vinyl became so popular and CDs so shunned that it was only a matter of time before the tables flipped back to where they were in 1986. That has now happened.
According to the RIAA, the dollar value of vinyl sold in the US in the first half of 2020 is somewhere around US$232 million while the CD market is worth around US$130 million.
If you had made a bet in 1990 that vinyl would one day reign supreme, you would have been locked up.
It should be noted that the price difference between the formats has flipped, too. A typical vinyl album retails for twice (or more!) as much of a CD.
That’s in the US, though. In Canada, there are signs that the vinyl resurrection has lost momentum. We’ll have to watch what happens.