For the first time since 1987, music lovers in the United States are buying more vinyl albums than CDs.
In 2022, listeners purchased 41 million vinyl records, compared to just 33 million CDs, according to a new report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group representing record labels, musicians and other recording businesses.
The triumph of vinyl isn’t surprising, as record sales have been growing for the past 16 straight years. Vinyl sales grew by 17 percent last year, bringing in $1.2 billion in revenue. CDs made $483 million, a drop of 18 percent.
Even so, both records and CDs made up only a small fraction of the music industry’s revenue in 2022. The majority—roughly 84 percent—came from streaming services, per the RIAA.
Long-playing records, or LPs, first hit the market in 1948, shortly after the end of World War II. First released by Columbia Records, these 12-inch discs could play up to 21 minutes of interrupted music per side.
Records remained the at-home music-listening format of choice until 1979, when the Sony Walkman entered the scene. With the new cassette player, anyone could listen to music on the go. As a result, vinyl record sales started to tank.
Other inventions—like portable CD players and the iPod—only hastened vinyl records’ demise throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
Around 2008, however, vinyl started to become trendy once again. Listeners started choosing vinyl “for collectibility, sound quality or simply the tactile experience of music in an age of digital ephemerality,” as Ben Sisario wrote for the New York Times in 2021.
“Many audiophiles claim the format provides a warmer, more authentic sound compared to digital (though some would argue this is largely subjective),” writes the Verge’s Jess Weatherbed. “Nostalgia also plays a part for those who lived through the golden age of vinyl, but younger generations are driving sales too, praising the format’s tangibility and artwork.”
More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic also contributed to vinyl’s comeback. As Kevin Hurler writes for Gizmodo, vinyl records became increasingly popular as live music came to a halt and concert venues shut down. Records also encourage listeners to spend more time with an entire album—and in the early days of the pandemic, music lovers had plenty of time at home to spare.
Artists are also capitalizing on vinyl’s popularity. Spin magazine’s Jonathan Cohen reports that Taylor Swift’s Midnights, which sold 945,000 copies, was the top vinyl release of 2022.
Some musicians say that by releasing their music on vinyl, they’re changing the listening experience. One of those is Chris P. Thompson, a composer and percussionist, who appreciates how records prompt listeners to more fully immerse themselves in an album.
“I wanted a format to encourage the listener to invest the time,” he told the Associated Press’ David Sharp in 2021. “There’s more to the experience than flipping through songs on your phone.”