RIAA: Recorded music revenue grew 5.6% in first half of 2020; vinyl 62% of all physical media sales

Smartphone displaying Apple Music

Updated on December 10, 2021

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has released its twice a year report on US music industry sales. (A PDF version is available here.) Overall, sales for the first half of 2020 grew 5.6% over the first half of 2019, for a total of $5.7 billion. Sales breakdowns are as follows:

Sales chart by category for 1H 2020
Image by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Streaming services

Streaming services unsurprisingly continue to be the music industry’s main source of revenue. Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and the like now make up 85% of revenue, an increase from 79% at the end of 2019. Presumably the pandemic’s helping lead to an increased reliance on streaming.

That said, as PBS’ “Two Cents” YouTube series points out, it’s not such a good deal for musicians, as they earn a miniscule amount from streaming services. Two Cents estimates the average payout’s about $0.00437 per streamed track on Spotify. Unless they’re Beyonc√©, musicians won’t get rich off of streaming services.

Physical media

Physical media sales declined by 23% from the first half of 2019. Part of this comes from music stores shut down due to the pandemic.

However, another part’s from the continued decline in CD sales. The RIAA reports vinyl records now make up 62% of all physical media sales, earning $232 million in the first half of 2020. CDs meanwhile made $130 million, despite more units of those sold (10.2 million CDs versus 8.8 million records). In terms of dollars, this is the first time since the 1980s that vinyl records have outearned CDs.

While I know CDs have fans, this doesn’t seem to spell a good sign for compact discs’ future.

Digital sales

Digital sales of music files (from iTunes, Amazon Music, etc.) continue to decline, making up 6% of all sales for the first half of 2020. Sales are down 22% versus the first half of 2019.

Overall, unless there’s a change in mindset about or backlash against the current subscription-oriented mindset, I’m wondering if buying music to permanently own will ever be the majority of music sales again.

On the bright side, one service trying to actively change this is Bandcamp, which allows musicians to sell physical merchandise/media and digital music on their own Bandcamp page. In exchange, Bandcamp takes a 10% cut of physical merchandise/media sales and a 15% cut of digital music sales (which drops to 10% if there’s over $5000 in digital sales). A much better deal for musicians than Spotify (or likely even iTunes).

Photo by freestocks dot org (Flickr / CC0 public domain / cropped from original)


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Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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