RIAA – US Record Sales Trump CD

The RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, has now announced that in 2022, for the first time in many years, more records than CDs were sold in the USA. What may sound like a jubilant message from the point of view of vinyl enthusiasts is ultimately due to the development on the market in recent years.

Story Highlights
  • For the first time in many, many years, the RIAA was able to announce that in 2022 vinyl records would outsell CDs in the United States.

As the Recording Industry Association of America, also known as the RIAA, has now announced, in 2022 sales of records in the USA were ahead of those of CDs for the first time in decades. This continues a development that was already foreseeable in recent years. In 2020, for example, the record had already surpassed the CD in terms of sales in the USA, although at that time only in terms of turnover.

But what seems like a jubilant announcement for vinyl enthusiasts who predicted a bright future for the record again in the 2000s after its decline in the 1980s, turns out on closer inspection to be a consequence of developments in the market in recent years.

The slow decline of the CD

It was the CD that was to herald the end of the vinyl record in the 1980s, and indeed, within a very short time, this medium was able to rise to become the leading sound carrier, which in fact put an abrupt end to the vinyl record. For many years, the record was only cherished as a niche by enthusiasts.

In retrospect, it was the rise of another form of digital distribution that heralded the demise of the CD: music downloads. Many customers no longer saw any advantage in purchasing a sound carrier whose content could be acquired in almost identical form with downloads, a circumstance that was reinforced with the establishment of music streaming on a broad front.

Why hoard your own collection of recordings on shelves when you can access millions and millions of music titles anytime and anywhere with just a few clicks?

Above all, young people who have grown up with downloads and streaming have often never bought a single CD in their lives. But it is precisely this target group that has been responsible for most of the sales in the music business for years, and these big sales have long since been made with streaming…

Vinyl, on the other hand, is a different matter. This medium offers clear advantages over pure downloads, even if it’s only the special handling, an appealing cover, possible encores, in short, everything that contributes to a physical experience. There is no need to philosophise about possible sound advantages.

Once again, it is especially young customers who have discovered records as a complement to streaming.

41 million records, 33 million CDs, billions of titles via streaming

According to the RIAA, 41 million records were sold in the USA last year, which means a slight increase compared to previous years, but is not really spectacular, at least in terms of pure numbers. In comparison, only 33 million CDs were sold, i.e. considerably fewer than records. And this downward trend has, with few exceptions, been foreseeable for years.

In terms of turnover, the record is doing even better, because it has been a real cash cow for the industry again for years. In 2022, sales grew by as much as 17 per cent and thus already account for 71 per cent of total sales of physical sound recordings.

Compared to the area where the really big money is made, however, the entire market for physical sound carriers is comparatively modest.

84 per cent of turnover comes from streaming

84 per cent of the music industry’s turnover in the USA comes from streaming alone, as the RIAA notes, and that is more than 13 billion US dollars. What the industry considered unthinkable just a few years ago and saw its demise in music downloads has thus long since been established on a broad front, namely paid music streaming subscriptions. Consumers are willing to pay for “unlimited” access to music that is as convenient as possible.

All in all, the US music industry earned a respectable 16 billion US dollars last year, thus increasing its turnover by six percent compared to the previous year.

Getting to the point

What seems to be cheering news from the point of view of vinyl enthusiasts turns out to be rather depressing news on closer inspection. The RIAA recently announced that last year, for the first time in decades, more records were sold in the USA than CDs. In terms of pure sales, the record had already surpassed the CD in 2020 and thus proved itself to be a relevant sound carrier format from the music industry’s point of view.

A closer analysis of this report shows that not really significantly more records were sold, but that hardly any more consumers buy CDs because they rely exclusively on streaming.

The record may therefore have found its justification in the niche and will continue to play a significant role in the future, but music streaming is clearly the big business.

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Michael Holzinger

Michael Holzinger, founder and editor-in-chief of HiFi BLOG and, has been working for years as a journalist in the fields of IT, photography, telecommunications and consumer electronics.

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