Hype Check: Vinyl is Not as Popular As Hipsters Want You To Believe

Is vinyl really making the major comeback people are claiming? The vinyl explosion we’ve been hearing about is, unfortunately, based on impressive percentage increases of low actual sales numbers. In other words, despite the hype and potential sound benefit, music technology is not about to evolve in reverse.

Stories of an enormous revival of vinyl have been making the rounds in recent years, with events like the annual Record Store Day buoying novelty interest and inspiring many top-tier artists to take part in vinyl-exclusive limited edition releases. Jack White has taken that ball and run wild with it, issuing a quarterly Vault vinyl release series through his Third Man Records imprint as well as taking part in a staggering number of vinyl reissues, all pressed at a plant he owns in Nashville.

Despite these highly publicized rejuvenations of the medium, however, vinyl isn’t actually taking the bite out of the music market that it might seem. Only 6.1 million vinyl LPs were sold in total in 2013, and a vast majority of that number were albums released before 2013. That’s a 33% uptick from 2012, but it’s still nothing to shout about. 

Meanwhile, as CD sales continue to drop, 41% of all albums sold in 2013 were downloads – a steady increase from previous years. The top selling digital album of 2013 was Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, with 1.03 million, the only album sell a million downloads in 2013.

Have a look at Nielsen SoundScan vinyl rankings for the year below. 

Top 10 album sales on vinyl in the USA for 2013:

1. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (49,000)

2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City (34,000)

3. Arcade Fire – Reflektor (31,000)

4. Mumford & Sons – Babel (27,000)

5. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (27,000)

6. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork (27,000)

7. Bon Iver – For Emma Forever Ago (23,000)

8. The Lumineers – The Lumineers (22,000)

9. The National – The Trouble Will Find Me (22,000)

10. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience (21,000)

Not exactly thrilling numbers, no matter how you cut it. Add all of them up and you still wouldn’t get a fraction of the viewing population for an episode of “Duck Dynasty”. Nevertheless, the audio benefits of vinyl, as well as its romantic value as a physical piece of art, a ritual of analog appreciation, keep vinyl lovers devoted. After all, there is no digital substitution for that warm hiss. No shiny silver coaster that can emulate the ritual of laying down that crooked arm and spinning your favorite black circle:



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