Vinyl outselling Digital Downloads…fact or fiction? Part 1/2



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The Guardian, and many other respected media sources, universally reported that for the first time in its history vinyl had outsold its modern rival – the Digital Download. According to official figures vinyl raked in a tidy £2.5m, whilst its Digital rival fell from £4.4m the previous year to £2.1m in 2016. A victory for analogue and the 2016 retro generation?… Perhaps. But we’re not so sure… For starters who is buying these records and what exactly are they buying? Is the growth in vinyl good news for emerging or established acts? And why is it none of these reports mentioned digital streaming…

According to Kim Bayley – Chief executive of the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), one of the primary factors behind vinyl surpassing digital sales is because of a new generation of 18-25 year olds who are now buying records [Source: Guardian]. Yet my experience of 18-25 year olds and music consumption somewhat contradicts this statement. Ever been on public transport with someone within this demographic? Well its not vinyl they’re playing off their smart phone… Plus when you consider our report from earlier this year, regarding the exponential growth of  streaming services in the first 6 months of 2016 (Apple Music 6 million new subscribers, Spotify 10 million). Coupled with the fact that a 2015 study concluded that 61% of all Spotify users are under the age of 29 [Source: Civic Science], you have to wonder which 18-25 year olds Kim Bayley is referring to…

With this in mind we decided to dig a little deeper, or as a modern man would say ‘Google the shidazzle out of it’ and what we found unequivocally substantiated our suspicions. Respected sources Bill Brewster (Vinyl junkie and trusted music historian), The Guardian, The Telegraph and YouGov all confirmed that those buying the majority of vinyl are middle-aged (45-54). Furthermore the records they’re buying are predominately nostalgic re-issues, not upcoming bands or artists. In addition to this Guardian writer Nathaniel Cramp also points out that whilst vinyl revenue did exceed digital revenue for the first time, the number of units sold had not.

So what conclusions can we draw from this discussion? Simple, three words: HypeSpinMore Hype.

Its clear from the information above, that using falling digital download sales as a primary indicator of vinyl’s growing viability is hugely misleading. Why? Because the decline in digital downloads is more likely attributable to the rapid growth in the streaming sector. Secondly it doesn’t address the fact that the majority of vinyl purchases are nostalgia driven, and therefore true organic growth is not as strong as we thought. Thirdly a number of these reports falsely suggested that a new generation of 18-25 yr olds were predominately responsible for boosting vinyl sales. When in reality it’s middle-aged collectors who are splashing the cash. A point that is further substantiated by the fact that the predominate age of those signing up to the rapidly expanding streaming sector are aged 18-25. All of which begs the question – Why the misleading information?

Well consider this, the ERA, of which Kim Bayley quoted above is the Chief Executive, now runs ‘Record Store Day’. And of the competing formats (vinyl vs digital), which do you think has the greatest potential profit margin for the majors? Exactly…vested interest = hype – spin – more hype. Leading us to one final, and all too familiar music industry conclusion: PROFIT. A word, that to many a music enthusiast leaves a sour taste. A sour taste that perhaps suggests that the vinyl resurgence of the past few years is no more real than Donald Trumps dubious hair line!

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