The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the industry association for the music industry, has released its annual mid-year revenues statistics. The one statistic that made a lot of headlines is that in the first half of 2020, vinyl records outsold compact discs for the first time since the 1980s.
While this is indeed the case, both records and CDs comprise a small fraction of overall music revenues, which long ago shifted away from physical media towards streaming and other digital technologies. In fact, physical media now takes up just 7 percent of revenues in the industry, with digital downloads taking up another 6 percent.
The RIAA reported that music industry revenues grew 5.6 percent to $5.7 billion at retail value. Of that revenue, streaming music now takes up 85 percent ($4.8 billion), up from 80 percent. Wholesale revenues grew 5.1 percent to $3.7 billion. Paid subscription revenue to streaming services grew 14 percent, to account for 67 percent of total revenues, although on-demand streaming services also grew 3 percent year-over-year.
As for physical media, revenues were $376 million, a 23 percent plunge over the year before, as the shutdown of retail stores affected that segment much more than any of the digital ones. And while sales of vinyl albums overtook those of CDs, vinyl sales only rose 4 percent in the first half of the year. Sales of CDs plunged 47.6 percent in the six months, to $129 million.
Concert venues, where physical media is sometimes sold, were also mostly shuttered doing the first half of the year.
Record Store Day, a semi-annual event that encourages music fans to visit record stores and buy albums, including special releases, is traditionally held in the spring and again in November, but was postponed multiple times due to the pandemic and stores not being open. This year’s Record Store Day has been split among three different days, including one last month, with the others set for September 26 and October 24.
CDs lack the cultural cache now held by vinyl, and the lack of CD drives in cars and other places has also helped bring about their long decline.
Also in the RIAA’s data, downloads of both singles and albums declined year over year, while the once-prominent category of “ringtones and ringbacks” fell once again to just $11 million in revenue.
In the early days of the pandemic, the music industry got some help in the form of money in the CARES Act, which passed in March, and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which passed the following month.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.