US music fans spent more on vinyl than CD last year for the first time since 1986

Harry Styles' Fine Line was the US market's biggest-selling vinyl album last year

2020 may have been a gloomy year thanks to the pandemic – but it was also an extraordinary year for vinyl.

In the United States, the format outsold CD albums on a monetary basis in 2020, according to new data from industry body the RIAA. It was the first time that vinyl trumped CD’s annual revenues in the US for 34 years.

Vinyl LPs and EPs generated $619.6 million in retail spending in the year, according to the RIAA’s new year-end report.

That was $136 million more than the total amount spend by US music fans on CD albums ($483.3 million) in the same 12 months.

Obviously, the pandemic-enforced closure/limitation of physical retail stores would have likely had an impact on CD sales in the United States in 2020.

That said, when MBW covered the RIAA’s year-end numbers for 2019 at the top of last year, we wrote: “Brace yourselves for an historic year for physical music in 2020…if vinyl’s retail haul grows by the same margin [in 2020 as it did in 2019] and CD falls by the same margin, vinyl will be a more lucrative format than CD in the United States in 2020.”

And that, in essence, is precisely what happened.

CD sales fell by 23.4% in 2020, according to the RIAA data, down $147.4 million YoY. Meanwhile, vinyl sales grew by 29.2% YoY – up $140.1 million on 2019 – to eclipse the CD’s annual sales haul.

It was the first time since 1986 that vinyl outsold CD on an annual basis, says the RIAA. (In 1986, according to the RIAA’s retrospective sales database, the CD format generated $930.1 million, with vinyl pulling in $983.0 million. The cassette was the year’s biggest format, with some $2.5 billion in sales.)

CDs were more popular than vinyl in terms of units sold in 2020, however: RIAA data shows that 31.6 million CD albums were sold in the year, with 22.9 million vinyl LP/EPs being snapped up.

RIAA numbers from its 2020 year-end report

Surprisingly, largely thanks to the rise in vinyl sales plus a rise in physical music video purchases, overall physical music revenues in the United States barely declined in 2020, despite the coronavirus lockdowns across the country.

The RIAA‘s report shows that despite that 23.4% fall in CDs, total US physical music sales in 2020 declined by just 0.5%, to $1.139 billion.

Physical music claimed 9% of overall revenues in the year.

The biggest contributor to record industry revenues was, of course, streaming, which generated $10.1 billion – worth 83% of the US industry’s total retail revenues.

The US record industry generated $12.2bn across all formats in 2020, says the RIAA, up 9.2% year-on-year.

The biggest-selling vinyl album in the US last year, according to MRC Data, was Fine Line by Harry Styles (232,000 vinyl sales), followed by When We All Fall Sleep Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish (196,000 vinyl sales), and Queen’s Greatest Hits (176,000 vinyl sales).Music Business Worldwide