Streaming has been blamed for killing off the CD, but industry experts agree it's helping bolster the growth and quality of another physical music format: vinyl. Since 2015, streaming income has eclipsed CD sales, and the likes of Apple Music and Spotify have become major players in the music industry. This year the Recording Industry Association of America reported that 75 percent of music revenue in the United States came from streaming services. In the past three years, vinyl sales in the US have steadily risen about $2 million annually. Why would anyone buy an album they can only listen to in one specific environment, when for half the price of a new record, they can put it and millions of others in their pocket and listen anywhere?
Music streaming sites are helping to drive sales of vinyl, new research suggests. Half of consumers say they have listened to an album online before buying a vinyl copy, according an ICM poll, shared exclusively with the BBC. The behaviour is more common for people who use ad-funded services such as SoundCloud or YouTube, suggesting free music can drive real-world sales. But 48% of people who bought vinyl last month admit they have yet to play it. Seven per cent of those surveyed say they do not even own a turntable.
Digital music might be the future, but legacy formats like vinyl aren't going away any time soon. New figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) have shown that more money was spent on vinyl records than digital music downloads in the UK last week, highlighting a significant shift in how consumers are choosing to buy their music. Figures show that during week 48 of 2016, consumers spent £2.4 million on vinyl, while downloads took £2.1 million. Compare that to the same period last year when £1.2 million was spent on records, with digital downloads bringing in £4.4 million. The ERA puts the surge in sales down to recent shopping events like Black Friday and the popularity of the format as a Christmas gift.
It certainly wasn't something I'd planned on doing: For one thing, when you consider the steadily eroding sales of compact discs (which are so bad, New York City can barely keep its record stores alive), the fact that I was even able to find one of those stabby-cornered, shink-wrapped eco-terrors was kind of a surprise. But there I was, stuck on a road trip with an ancient stereo system, in dire need of a Drake break (his songs had started from the bottom of the FM dial and continued, non-stop, all the way up). And so I dropped 12 for Tribulation's The Children of the Night, an excellent Swedish black metal album--think Riverbottom Nightmare Band, if its members had spent a year opening for Queens of the Stone Age--which I then kept on repeat for days. So, like millions of other music fans with limited IRL storage space, I put complete faith in the cloud, despite the fact that it had been named for an aerosol that has a tendency to suddenly disappear. It felt like an odd step backward.
Sales of CD albums have risen for the first time since 2003 as music lovers fell out of love with downloading music. Sales of all physical records rose in last year, a trend supported by the ongoing revival of vinyl records, with sales of the format jumping 24 per cent year on year. As music fans fell out of love with downloading music on apps like Apple's iTunes, they began streaming their favourite artists through subscription services like Apple Music and Spotify instead, preventing downloads from becoming the dominant format. It has also emerged that UK record labels grew at the fastest rate since the Britpop era, as artists including Ed Sheeran, Little Mix and Stormzy helped boost revenues through vinyl records, CDs and streaming services. Record companies in the UK generated £839.4 million in sales in 2017, up 10.6% on the prior year, according to figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).