Updated on December 10, 2021
US music industry group the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) released its figures for music revenue in 2020. Despite the pandemic, ongoing trends from previous years continued unhindered.
Streaming services the default source of music
Unsurprisingly, streaming services continue to be the dominant source of music for most Americans. Streaming now makes up a whopping 83% of revenue for the music industry, up from 80% in 2019.
In dollar amounts, revenue grew 9.2% to $12.2 billion for 2020. The peak revenue (adjusted for inflation) was $22.7 billion in 1999. At the time, CD sales made up nearly all music formats sold (cassettes were on their last legs).
Physical formats: Vinyl now outearns CDs
Physical media made up 9% of music revenue in 2020.
For the first time since 1986, vinyl record sales revenue now eclipses that of CDs. Vinyl sales grew 28.7% over 2019 (to $626 million), while CD sales declined by 23% (to $483 million). Apparently the pandemic didn’t slow down interest in vinyl, despite many local music stores suffering. Percentage-wise, CDs make up about 4% of all US music sales, while vinyl makes up about 5%.
My personal music usage
Again, I’m exclusively into digital formats for music listening; I haven’t heavily used vinyl records since childhood. I’m still wondering why vinyl’s made such a large comeback. Large artwork covers and nostalgia aside, I’d rather have music on my phone, computer, or MP3 player than clear space for a turntable and speakers.
Meanwhile I recall when CDs were at their height in popularity… and price. One reason the rise of the MP3 (via Napster, and later iTunes) was revolutionary was that CDs were expensive; the average CD in 1995 cost about $17, or about $30 in today’s dollars. To save money, people would either buy cassettes, CD singles (which were also overpriced), or join mail-order record clubs offering CDs at a discount. This cartoon by The Oatmeal summed up the state of things at the turn of the millennium.
Now, $10 gets one either an entire digital album or a month’s subscription to a music service, with access to thousands of songs. While I’m fine with going digital, it’s obvious there’s a large contingent of nostalgic vinyl fans. Meanwhile, I’m guessing there are a lot fewer nostalgic CD fans?
Photo by freestocks dot org (Flickr / CC0 public domain / cropped from original)