How Vinyl Got Its Groove Back

Here's How Much Americans Spend on Vinyl, Per This Online Marketplace

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Discogs says 11.96 million vinyl albums were sold through the site in 2020 — an almost 40% increase over 2019 — and that U.S. buyers spent an average of $41.18 per order.

In a year without live music, fans turned to vinyl records and CDs for home entertainment, and many of them bought their albums and logged their collections on the recorded-music database and marketplace Discogs, which sells new and used albums, singles and other recorded music in all formats.

Discogs communications content head Aub Driver says approximately 75% of orders placed through the site are for vinyl, and in 2020, 11.96 million vinyl albums were sold through the site — an almost 40% increase over the previous year — while 3.44 million CDs were purchased, a 37.26% bump.

Driver says those numbers are proof that “physical media is not going anywhere. Vinyl is crushing it,” he adds. “But so are CDs.”

Discogs’ 10 million users also had the time to inventory their album collections on the site and added 100 million titles to the database, which has surpassed 500 million albums.

In analyzing that information, Driver determined that the average Discogs user owns 184 recordings — the individual with the largest collection on the site owns over 512,000 releases — and that the average collection value is $3,160. When it comes to limited-edition recordings, 78% define them as releases of 1,000 copies or less, while 22% say that a run of 5,000 or less is acceptable. And though color vinyl has become a hot commodity, 66% of Discogs collectors prefer black vinyl because it is easier to find, sounds better and costs less.

Billboard asked Driver to dig deeper into the Discogs database for information on which genres are the most collected; average buyer spends in 10 countries; domestic versus export percentages for sellers in 10 countries; and a price comparison between a sold-out limited-edition rerelease of legendary jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 album Somethin’ Else versus the original issue.

Driver says 2015 “was the first year that we saw a large number of reissues on vinyl,” which sparked a surge of purchases on Discogs through 2017. He theorizes that growth leveled off in 2018 and 2019 because consumers who hadn’t yet embraced the vinyl format “were still trying to figure out whether it was worth the investment — you need a turntable and space to store the albums.” He adds that the onset of the pandemic in 2020 convinced many people to take the plunge, which dovetails with MRC Data and RIAA statistics on the growth of vinyl sales during that period. “People said, ‘We’re going to be spending a lot more time at home,’ and went back into music appreciation, which resulted in massive growth” — more than six times the format’s growth from 2018 to 2019. The pandemic also proved beneficial for CD and even cassette sales in 2020, albeit at a lower volume. Discogs users bought 3.44 million CDs in 2020, up 37.26% over the previous year, and 282,798 cassettes, up 33.58%. 

Although Discogs was founded in 2000 as a database for electronic dance music DJs to catalog their collections, rock music has overtaken EDM to be the top-collected genre on the site. Based on the music in all formats that Discogs users added to their collections in 2020 — not all users log their collections — more than twice as many rock records were added compared with electronic music. 

When it comes to marketplace transactions on Discogs, “the United States doesn’t do a lot of export,” says Driver. “We are a buying nation.” For countries or regions that export most of their sales, Driver says, in most cases “it’s all about the regional releases that those sellers have in their stock. The U.K. and Europe have some of the most desired pressings, so they see more exports,” he explains. “When vinyl dried up in the ’90s in the United States, the U.K. and Europe continued to press wax, so many nostalgic fans seek those releases in lieu of a reissue.” Using Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic, The Dark Side of the Moon, as an example, Driver says, “If you use our database to filter by country of origin, you’ll see that the U.S. has a ridiculous amount of releases on many formats, but the U.K. and European Union combined have a similar quantity. The majority of those buyers are looking for a specific version and, similar to Australia, those buyers will pay to ship and add them to their collection.”

The dollar amounts in the Average Spend Per Order column were converted from each country’s currency — Discogs continuously updates exchange rates internally — and Driver says that the average Discogs order is two items. Buyers in the United States and the United Kingdom spend less per order than those in other countries, but they buy with more frequency. From January 2020 through the end of March 2021, 452,228 buyers placed an average of eight orders with Discogs sellers. “This all comes back to market value,” he says, which can be tracked by looking up a release’s sales history in the database, where users can see the last 10 sales of any release anywhere in the world. “CDs and vinyl are not necessarily more expensive outside of the United States, but there is a demand for rarity,” says Driver. “The international record collector will find the version they are looking for eventually, but the right factors of price and shipping need to be in place.”

The limited-issue Blue Note Classic Vinyl Edition of jazz great Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 Somethin’ Else LP, which features Miles Davis on trumpet — one of the few recordings he made as a sideman after 1955 — sold out quickly when it was released this year. Mastered from the original two-track tapes and pressed on 180-gram vinyl, the edition was praised for its rich stereo sound. Driver says that reissues like this are in demand “because people want availability,” but, he adds, “the original release is the one true collectors want.” A comparison of the Blue Note rerelease and the 1958 original bears this out. Although the 2021 rerelease has sold for a high of $91.55 on Discogs, the album goes for an average of $36.04, which is about $11 more than its $24.98 list price.

Although the list price for Somethin’ Else in 1958 could not be found, LPs generally sold for under $2 in the 1950s. Today, an original copy could cost approximately 90 times that or more, depending on its condition. Discogs data shows that the original pressing sells for an average price of $189.13 and has gone for as much as $1,275. Says Driver: “You are going to pay a premium for something that is much harder to source.” 

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