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Streams Rise 12.4% in First Half of 2022 as Vinyl Growth Stalls and CDs Decline

While on-demand streams are significantly up over the same period last year, demand for physical formats appears to be softening.

Halfway through 2022, on-demand streams in the U.S. are up significantly over the same time period last year – audio streams grew 12.4%, while video rose 6.3%, according to data provided by Luminate. But physical formats are struggling somewhat.

Audio streams in the U.S. totaled 543.2 billion in the six-month period that ended June 30, 2022, up from 483.4 billion in the first half of 2021, according to Luminate. Billboard projects that 2022 will be the first year in which audio streams break the trillion-unit mark in the U.S. Video streams – of which Luminate only tracks paid and official streams – grew to 77 billion from 72.5 billion.

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Last year’s other star format, vinyl, is struggling to continue its growth. In the first half of 2022, the U.S. accounted for 19.4 million vinyl records, up just 1% from the same period of 2021. (This comes after impressive gains: Last year vinyl accounted for 41.7 million in sales, a whopping 51.4% rise over the 2020 total of 27.55 million.) CDs are struggling, too. In 2021, CD sales also rose for the first time in years – up 1.1% to 40.6 million from 40.2 million in 2020. So far this year, though, sales in the format are down 10.7% to 16.9 million from 18.9 million in the first six months of last year.

Retail and wholesale buyers say several factors have contributed to the vinyl slowdown and the decline in CD sales. For one, last year, Walmart embraced vinyl, which turbocharged growth. Music merchandisers say this year’s first-half release schedule hasn’t been as strong as last year’s. And vinyl is still struggling with manufacturing capacity issues, although the situation is a bit better than last year when retailers simply ran out of stock on some titles. One factor that’s hard to assess: Inflation is pushing up wholesale prices for vinyl releases, even as some consumers are struggling with the rising cost of other goods. While music has generally been considered recession-proof, that may not be the case when it comes to vinyl, especially at “big box” stores like Walmart that sell everyday necessities. Physical sales at such mass merchant stores declined 15.5% in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.

Less surprisingly, digital sales declined 8.4% to 46.94 million downloads, from the 51.3 million tallied during the first half of 2021. Individual track sales suffered an especially big decline, falling 21.4% to 80 million downloads from 101.8 million downloads in the first half of 2021.

Overall album sales, including physical and digital, fell 8.4% to 46.95 million from 2021’s mid-year total of 51.3 million.

When all those formats are converted into album consumption units, total albums plus track equivalent albums and streaming equivalent albums came in at 475.5 million units – a 9.3% increase over the first half of 2021, when total consumption units was 435.03 million units. Likewise, audio consumption units were up 9.3% to 452.2 million units from 413.6 million units in the first half of last year. (Ten tracks equal one track-equivalent album (TEA); while 1,250 paid streams and/or 3,750 ad-supported streams each equal one stream-equivalent album (SEA)).

There’s also a shift to catalog. (More on that here.) In the first half of 2022, audio consumption units of current music – defined as songs and albums in the first 18 months; albums that remain in the top half of the Billboard 200; or songs that are current at radio – accounted for 27.6% of the first half of this year’s total of 452.2 million units, while catalog accounted for 72.4%. That’s a shift from 2021, when current audio album consumption units comprised 30.5% of that year’s total audio count of 413.6 million units in the first half of the year; while catalog was 69.5% of that total. Also worth noting: Even as current music loses ground to catalog in streaming, it’s gaining ground in terms of physical sales, as catalog declines there.

Overall, sales of current albums (encompassing physical album sales and digital album downloads) grew to 36.2% versus 63.8% catalog as compared to 31.3% current and 68.7% catalog, a five-percentage-point swing in favor of current. In the years prior to 2020, however, the market share of current music was declining steadily on this metric. Five years ago in 2017, for example, when albums totaled 83.52 million units, 44.6% were current and 55.4% were catalog.

Within that, current CD copies grew to 40.6% of market share while catalog fell to 59.4% in the first half of the year; versus last year when current CD copies were 35.3% and catalog 64.7%. Current vinyl grew even more, up nearly 6 percentage points to 33.3% of total vinyl albums while catalog came in at 66.7% as compared to the first half of 2021 when those percentages, respectively, were 26.4% and 73.6%.

Digital albums posted a slight gain in favor of current, to 34.3% of digital albums from the prior year’s 32.7%; but digital tracks saw current fall slightly against catalog to 26.7% from the prior year’s 28.3%, which means that catalog crew to 73.3% of this year’s digital album total from last year’s 71.7%.

In streaming, current lost ground to catalog. Both total and audio streams accounted for 26.8% of total streams at mid-year; while catalog was 73.2%. In the first half of last year, those percentages were 30.9% current and 69.1% catalog. In video streams, catalog grew to 72.6%, as compared to 27.4% for current. Five years ago in 2017, current audio streams accounted for 38.9% of the market, while catalog was 61.1%. Since then, current music has given up 12 percentage points in market share to catalog.

Non-interactive, streams, i.e., programmed streams, declined 1.3% to 85.94 billion plays from the prior year six-month total of 87.05 billion, and remain heavily dominated by catalog plays, which account for 86.2% versus 13.8% for current music.

Finally, looking at formats as a percentage of audio consumption units, audio streams accounted for 87.8% of units in the first half of 2022; albums, 10.4%; and tracks, 1.8%. Back in 2017, those percentages were streams 51.8%; albums 35.2%; and tracks, 12.9%. Within albums, the CD has declined from 17.7% of total audio consumption units in 2017 to 3.7% of units in 2022; while vinyl has grown from 2.7% of audio consumption units in the first six months 2017 to 4.7% of units in the first half of this year.