Vinyl sales break records during the pandemic
With live music shut down for over a year, fans turned to albums and vinyl collections exploded.
Ahead of Christmas 2020, for the first time since 1991, the record for most vinyl sales in a week was broken twice, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Nearly 1.5 million vinyl records were sold between December 10 and 17, and the following week nearly two million were sold. As vinyl sales increased since 2007they increased in the United States by nearly 30% in 2020 alone.
There doesn’t seem to be any sign of slowing sales either, says Jordan Wiggins, who works at Vinyl Moon.
Wiggins’ company releases monthly compilation albums on vinyl featuring Denver artists such as Andrew Rothschild, Joel Ansett, Panther Martin and Rose Quartz.
“We’ve doubled the number of subscribers in the first three months of 2021,” says Wiggins. “While spending habits have changed for many consumers in light of the pandemic, a subset of spending has actually increased, particularly when it comes to leisure and home entertainment.”
Paul Epstein, who has owned and operated the Denver record store Twist & Shout with his wife, Jill, for the past thirty years, has also noticed a surge in sales in recent months.
“The first three months of the pandemic were terrible; we didn’t sell anything,” Epstein said. But since businesses started to reopen, “it has reached a level [of sales] I would never have predicted. We’re ordering a number of big vinyl releases that I never expected.
As people were stuck at home during the pandemic, he continues, former collectors spent time with their records and realized how much they valued them. But seasoned collectors aren’t the only ones buying vinyl at record highs.
“When the vinyl revival really started to take off, maybe eight or nine years ago, I can’t tell you how many people in my general age range – you know, people in their 50s and sixties – came and said, “Oh, I forgot what the music sounded like! Said Epstein.
Yet during the pandemic, he’s also noticed that many young people have started getting into vinyl for the first time.
“Those [older] the people are still there – they’re the ones buying the high-end, expensive reissue records,” Epstein observes. But when it comes to the new release business, “it’s the young people. say that about 90% of those sales will be LPs [as opposed to CDs].”
Nationally, vinyl is now more popular than CDs, reported Forbes in February. Digital download sales are plummeting as more people turn to streaming services, and downloads are expected to break records by the end of the year.
Yet while vinyl retailers have flourished, some local independent record labels have seen their sales stagnate or even decline.
Boulder native Travis Shetter who operates the eclectic electronic music label Record budget cuts of Seattle, highlights how small businesses have been locked in to varying degrees by the explosive growth in vinyl purchases over the past year.
“The pandemic has hit and totally frozen supply chains at all levels with the initial lockdowns,” Shetter says. “Production and delivery deadlines have been hit hard, which has made rolling out albums tricky on all levels.”
While music buyers seem to understand these types of delays, he adds, “those who had little or no market share, like me, were kind of forced into hibernation, while those that had a larger market share actually grew because they were able to continue doing business and have less competition.”
Shetter sees some hope for small businesses, however.
His label distributes records through Lobster Distribution. “Lobster never closed, and neither did their vinyl pressing plant, MPO,” he says. “They just operated with a reduced staff which meant the pressing could continue during the pandemic.”
Additionally, Shetter thanks Bandcamp for waiving its share of music sales revenue every first Friday of the month since the pandemic began to help independent artists and labels. Dubbed Bandcamp Day, these First Friday sales account for such a large portion of Budget Cuts Records sales that Shetter now tries to align its new releases with the first Friday of each month.
“The whole Bandcamp Day phenomenon,” he says, “has been a major, if not the only, driver of sales.”