Shhhhhh, here’s a little secret you might not fully appreciate in the iTunes age: record stores still exist, still sell great music, and are still places to look, feel, and thumb through albums and their accompanying artwork. In fact, this Saturday is the fifth annual Record Store Day – a collective effort of founders and organizers, artists spanning a number of genres and regions, 1,700 participating retailers in the United States and abroad, and many indie and major music labels.
As part of Record Store Day festivities, visitors to neighborhood music shops across the country can expect to find day-of exclusives like promotional giveaways, live performances, and roughly 300 limited-edition releases, more than 90 percent of which are on vinyl. Vinyl and Record Store Day, after all, have a recent track record of success. Sales of vinyl albums more than doubled their typical week’s volumes during last year’s event week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Vinyl singles, too, sold 13 times more than during a typical week.
While Record Store Day marks a great opportunity for fans to reconnect with local stores and their favorite artists, vinyl sales growth has hardly been limited to one day a year. According to the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA’s) annual shipment numbers, which track total recorded music industry sales in the United States dating back to 1973, vinyl has enjoyed remarkable staying power amid the many formats now available for accessing music. While LP/EP record sales peaked in 1977 (see some fun photos of from old record stores here) and declined in the 1980’s and 1990’s, they have grown for the past five years. Most recently in 2011, more than five million vinyl albums were shipped, the highest level since 1990. Music labels have continued to put out vinyl versions of both new release and catalog music to satisfy that demand, even bundling digital download codes with vinyl record purchases.
But it’s not just about vinyl. Just as digital music services continue to evolve and give fans access to a variety of bands anytime and anywhere, music companies and their retail partners continue to explore rejuvenated physical product offerings that fans connect with, and collect, differently than digital. According to our 2011 shipment numbers, CDs remained the largest category of music sales, with 241 million albums sold. There was a modest decline last year in physical sales, the smallest drop in several years.
So whether or not you have a turntable in your home, get out and help celebrate Record Store Day and support your favorite artists this Saturday. More and more acts are catching the vinyl bug, with this year’s exclusive event releases hailing from longtime band favorites to today’s hit makers like Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, Bruno Mars, Coldplay, Common, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Eric Clapton, The Flaming Lips, Florence + the Machine, Fun., Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Katy Perry, Metallica, Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney, Phish, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sex Pistols, The White Stripes, Widespread Panic, Wilco, and more!
Joshua P. Friedlander
Vice President, Strategic Data Analysis, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)