While vinyl’s ascension has moved beyond the realm of cool into an important moneymaker for key niches in the U.S. music industry, for all of its growth, the format still remains a small percentage of sales.
In 2012, vinyl album sales totaled 1.4% of U.S. album sales, or 4.6 million units, compared to 0.4% in 2008 when vinyl sold 1.9 million units. But some of that percentage gain is also due to the decline of album sales from 428.4 million units in 2008 to 316 million last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Still, labels like Epitaph and Yep Roc say vinyl album sales can make up anywhere from 12% to 20% of dollar sales volume during the first month of a title’s release. In the case of Yep Roc, that’s up from about 4% in 2008, according to label principal Tor Hansen, who reports that the label-owned distribution company Redeye also experiences similar percentages for its distributed labels.
For example, the Redeye-distributed Grizzly Bear album Shields (2012) has scanned 12,000 vinyl units of its 111,000 sales total, while the band’s prior release, Veckatimest, has moved 21,000 vinyl albums of the 236,000 units scanned since its 2009 release. While those percentages work out to about 9% and 11.5%, respectively, on a unit basis, vinyl is priced much higher than the CD. Moreover, at retail, merchants like Criminal Records in Atlanta say that vinyl now comprises 70% of the store’s sales.
At Rainbo Records, a CD/DVD/vinyl/cassette manufacturer based in Canoga Park, Calif., vinyl has grown from 18% of the company’s sales volume three years ago to about half, according to Rainbo president Steven Sheldon.
“Record Store Day launched the vinyl resurgence,” says Michael Kurtz, president of indie coalition Department of Record Stores, which oversees Record Store Day. “Without the megaphone of Record Store Day, there wouldn’t have been a stage for vinyl to shine on. Can you imagine a label executive saying six years ago, ‘We will ship millions of dollars of vinyl to stores around the world.’ That guy would have either been fired or laughed out of the room.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Cobraside, a wholesaler in Glendale, Calif., is very dependent on vinyl. “When we started 12 years ago, it was pure dumb luck that we staked out the vinyl business,” principal Randy Hoyt says. “Eighty percent of what we sell is vinyl.”
Then there are players like Touch Vinyl, a vinyl-only store that opened in Los Angeles in July 2012. “By the end of the year, I knew we weren’t going anywhere,” owner Sebastian Mathews says, meaning the store wouldn’t go out of business.
While vinyl sales are posting large percentage increases annually and are big business for some niche players, it’s still a small percentage overall. And that is reflected in turntable sales, which have been static in five of the last six years, hovering around the 110,000-unit mark (actually ranging from 104,000 to 115,000), according to the Consumer Electronics Assn.
“We have to keep in mind this is very much a niche market,” CEA senior analysis manager Sean Murphy says. “We are talking annual sales that are slightly more than the number of iPads Apple sells every two days. It’s safe to say that the glory days of the LP, like that of the CD, are gone and will never return.”