In new Nielsen Music data published by Billboard, vinyl sales in the third quarter of 2017 (July-September) increased by 3.1% to around 10 million, a new record for modern times. The best selling vinyl record was The Beatles' Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, reissued for the iconic LP’s 50th anniversary.
But CD sales fell by around a fifth during the same period, down to under 58 million from over 72 million during the same period in 2016.
In the non-physical realm, most of the slack is being picked up by streaming services such as Spotify. A potent illustration is Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee’s ‘Despacito’ featuring Justin Bieber. The latin pop juggernaut has already topped 1.1 billion on-demand streams (combined audio and video), compared with last year’s top on-demand streaming track, Desiigner's ‘Panda,’ had 674.4 million streams at the end of the third quarter. In fact, seven other tracks do far in 2017 have superseded the ‘Panda’ total for the first three quarters of 2016.
The top album on a ‘consumption unit’ basis – an arcane formula where by 1,500 streams of a record is deemed to be equivalent to a physical LP sale – is Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, with 2.35 million consumption units., followed by Ed Sheeran's Divide, with 2.13 million consumption units. Candian hip-hop titan Drake's More Life comes in a at No. 3, with a little over 2 million consumption units to date.
The reasons behind the resurgence of vinyl – considered by most commentators to be a wholly redundant format as long ago as the mid-eighties – is complex and little-understood. An op-ed in the LA Times earlier this year posits the theory that millennial ‘deify… outdated things’ is only part of the story. More likely, the author suggests, in a world where even something as technically sophisticated and expensive as the iPhone in your pocket is rendered obsolete every six months, a piece of tech that’s been kicking around for the best part of a century is somehow comforting and, yes, damn cool.