More than one out of every three albums sold in the U.S. last year were vinyl LPs, according to MRC Data.
Vinyl album sales comprised 38.3% of all album sales (physical and digital formats combined) in the U.S. in 2021 (41.72 million of 108.98 million), the company reports. Further, vinyl LPs accounted for 50.4% of all physical albums sold (41.72 million of 82.79 million). Both sums are MRC Data-era records for vinyl’s share of the album sales market in the U.S.
MRC Data’s 2021 tracking year ran from Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 30, 2021. All numbers in this story are for the U.S. only. MRC Data (formerly Nielsen Music and SoundScan) began tracking music sales in 1991. MRC Data’s sales, streaming and airplay data is used to compile Billboard’s weekly charts.
In addition, for the first time since MRC Data began tracking music sales in 1991, U.S. vinyl albums outsold CD albums for the year – and vinyl is now the leading format for album purchases overall in America.
VINYL VOLUME TURNED UP: 41.72 million vinyl albums were sold in the U.S. in 2021 (up 51.4% from 27.55 million in 2020). 2021 marked the 16th consecutive year vinyl album sales grew, and the largest year for vinyl album sales since MRC Data began tracking sales in 1991. Also in 2021, Vinyl LP sales saw their single-largest sales week of the MRC Data era, when 2.11 million vinyl albums were sold in the week ending Dec. 23.
In 2021, 40.59 million CD albums were sold (up 1.1% from 40.16 million in 2020), making it the second-most popular format among consumers who purchased albums. Strikingly, CD album sales posted a yearly gain for the first time since 2004, when CD sales increased 4.6% to 665.5 million (from 636.5 million in 2003).
Digital album sales were the third-most popular format in 2021 for album purchases, and the segment fell 23.9% in 2021 to 26.19 million (down from 34.42 million in 2020).
Vinyl was the dominant format for album purchases in the U.S. up until the early 1980s. After that, cassettes took hold until the early 1990s, when the CD format blossomed and remained king until 2021.
INDIES RULE THE VINYL WORLD: Of the 41.72 million total vinyl album sales in 2021, 19.78 million came from the independent retail sector — up 80.8% compared to 2020’s haul of 10.94 million. Indie stores continued to profit in the vinyl space from Record Store Day promotions – including two RSD drops in 2021 and RSD Black Friday, along with many indie store-exclusive vinyl releases.
There were 13.4 million vinyl LPs sold in 2021 through the non-traditional sector of the marketplace (up 19.1% compared to the 11.24 million sold via non-traditional sellers in 2020). Non-traditional sellers, as defined by MRC Data, include internet-based retailers like Amazon, mail order and direct-to-consumer sales like an artist’s web store.
Mass merchants, such as Target and Walmart, were the third-largest seller of vinyl LPs in 2021, with 6.17 million sold (up 61.8% compared to 3.81 million in 2020). In 2020, vinyl LP sales grew 98.5% at mass merchants. In the past few years, both Target and Walmart have focused on selling vinyl albums – both in-store and online – giving more floorspace to the format inside their physical stores and carrying exclusive variants of vinyl releases.
Walmart has even exclusively released a few albums only available on the vinyl LP format, including a pair of Luke Bryan greatest hits compilations – #1’s Volume 1 and #1’s Volume 2, which were released in 2020 and 2021, respectively. They have sold 15,000 and 10,000 to date, respectively.
ADELE LEADS THE WAY, BUT TAYLOR IS QUEEN OF VINYL: Adele’s recent studio release 30 may have only been released Nov. 19, but it made the most of its six weeks of availability during the tracking year. The set sold 318,000 copies on in 2021, easily making it the top-selling vinyl LP of the year. The second-biggest selling album on vinyl in 2021 was Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, with 268,000 sold.
Meanwhile, Taylor Swift has three of the year’s top 10-selling vinyl albums (Nos. 3, 6 and 9, see below). Swift is also the top-selling artist on vinyl in 2021, having sold 1.09 million total vinyl LPs during the year across her entire catalog — or 2.6% of total vinyl LP sales. Swift’s vinyl LP sales were aided by sturdy business through her official web store. The Beatles were the No. 2 best-selling act on vinyl in 2021, with 659,000 sold.
TOP 10 SELLING VINYL ALBUMS OF 2021 IN U.S.
1. Adele, 30 (318,000)
2. Olivia Rodrigo, Sour (268,000)
3. Taylor Swift, Red (Taylor’s Version) (260,000)
4. Harry Styles, Fine Line (256,000)
5. Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever (252,000)
6. Taylor Swift, Evermore (249,000)
7. Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain (Soundtrack) (207,000)
8. The Beatles, Abbey Road (201,000)
9. Taylor Swift, Folklore (195,000)
10. Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (194,000)
Source: MRC Data, for the tracking period Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 30, 2021.
In 2021 there were a total of 87 albums that sold at least 50,000 copies on vinyl – up from 51 in 2020. The year’s top-seller is Adele’s 30, with 318,000 copies sold. Comparatively, only 67 albums on the CD format sold at least 50,000 copies in 2021, up from 65 in 2020.