Vinyl sales exceed CD sales for the first time since the 1980s

Vinyl record sales last peaked during the Reagan decade; in 2020, they returned to the same level as many people sought new hobbies during the pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of Records Per Minute

Vinyl record sales last peaked during the Reagan decade; 40 years later, vinyl is making a comeback.

In 2020, vinyl record sales exceeded CD sales in the United States for the first time since the 1980s, according to a report of the Recording Industry Association of America. Vinyl sales increased by 3.6% while CD sales fell by 47.6%. Local record store owners said the trends were obvious and they point to the coronavirus pandemic as the main reason.

Jesse Merideth, owner of The Hippie Hut Guitars & Things, said he noticed a surge in sales.

“I imagine people have a lot of time to kill,” Merideth said. “People are getting stimulus checks with extra money to spend on things.”

Jack Sterver, owner of Records Per Minute, a popular record store in Columbus, said he believed the increase was due to the pandemic-inspired phenomenon of picking up new hobbies.

“People are picking up vinyl collections as a new hobby,” Sterver said. “I think it’s people trying to stay home, and it gives them a way to get away from TV and back to how things used to be.”

According to MRC Data and Billboard’s year-end report, Black Friday 2020 sold nearly 1.3 million albums and set a new record for the biggest vinyl sales week since MRC Data began tracking the format in 1991. Three weeks later, this record was broken by holiday shopping which saw over 1.8 million albums sold.

The two store owners said they have seen an increase in the number of vinyl records purchased, especially online. Although Merideth said there was a wide range of customers and types of records purchased, he said young audiences have made their presence known.

“As you can imagine, most typical shoppers are middle schoolers,” Merideth said. “We have people remembering where we were with the recordings, but for the age groups, we mostly get 18 to 21 here.”

The top vinyl albums of 2020 were Harry Styles’ “Fine Line” with 232,000 sales and “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” of Billie Eilish? with 196,000 sales, according to MRC Data and Billboard’s year-end report.

Caroline Geraghty, a freshman in marketing, said she’s been collecting vinyl for a while now, but understands why the cultural influences of the 80s led to such a sudden surge in sales.

“I think they became popular because the period grew in popularity, and a lot of the popular culture from that era came back,” Geraghty said.

Not only have people tried to emulate aspects of the decade, Geraghty said collecting vinyl is a new way to enjoy and experience music.

“I think people liked vinyl during COVID because it’s just something new to spice up their day,” Geraghty said. “They’re fun to collect, especially for albums where you like the majority of the songs. That’s mainly why I have vinyl.

Jack L. Goldstein