It’s business as usual in the Recording Industry of America mid-year report released Thursday, which — in line with what we’ve been seeing for a couple of years now — describes a music industry shooting up in streaming revenue and sagging down in physical and digital sales.
One striking detail in the report, though, is just how quickly physical platforms are declining. While vinyl has made a valiant resurgence in the last decade, reaching its highest sales figures last year since the early Nineties, CDs are faring much worse. According to the RIAA’s report, when comparing the first half of 2018 with the first half of 2017, vinyl revenue increased 12.6 percent while CD revenue plummeted 41.5 percent. Those percentages are roughly the same for units of each format sold. Granted, CD sales (i.e. the number of copies sold) are still in the millions — but thanks to CDs’ year-over-year tumble, shipments of physical products overall slipped 25 percent, which the RIAA notes is a higher rate of decline than in previous years.
While the compact disc has been on its deathbed for a while now — labels release fewer CDs these days, and major retailers like Target and Best Buy have decided to limit quantities or even stop stocking discs — the speed at which it’s crashing toward irrelevance is dramatic. Vinyl, on the other hand, is breeding optimism in the industry; while no one expects vinyl to usurp digital formats, musicians and experts alike are betting on its sustained future because of both its unique audio quality and nostalgic value. “I definitely believe the next decade is going to be streaming plus vinyl — streaming in the car and kitchen, vinyl in the living room and the den. Those will be the two formats,” Jack White, one of the most vocal advocates of vinyl, told Rolling Stone earlier this year.
Elsewhere in its report, the RIAA pointed out the continued growth of streaming (28% year-over-year growth) and the emergence of paid streaming as a leader within that sector.
“What continues to sustain all of us is an unrelenting focus on the music,” RIAA president Mitch Glazier said in the report. He also noted that the “growth achieved so far is in spite of our music licensing system, not because of it,” pointing to the passage of the Music Modernization Act this week as a step toward ensuring fair market rates for artists on all platforms — but not as a panacea for many other issues still plaguing music licensing in the digital age.