Small Data: Is lots of vinyl being sold?

Graph showing shipments of vinyl records 1964 to 2013

Much has been made of the fact that more than a million vinyl albums have been sold this year, but is that a lot, asks Anthony Reuben.

Everybody's becoming familiar with a particular story about how people buy their music. CDs killed vinyl. CDs were in turn at least partly killed by downloads. But then vinyl made a stirring recovery.

I heard a guest on BBC Radio 4 talk about how some people were buying vinyl as a form of art, with no intention of playing it. Clearly there are also lots of people who buy and play vinyl because they prefer it. But do the latest figures really herald a return to peak vinyl?

This year is the first time that more than a million vinyl albums have been sold since 1996. This was based on Official Charts data released by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), going back to 1994, which was when they started keeping count.

There was nothing particularly wrong with the figures, except that 1994 is quite a bad year to start looking at vinyl, as the graph above shows.

Now, there are caveats with these figures, which are for shipments not for sales. So if albums were sent by record labels to shops but not sold then they would still appear in these figures.

Also, they are figures for vinyl units, so a double album such as the Beatles White Album would count as two units.

But while these figures slightly inflate the number of vinyl albums sold, they make it clear that 1996 was not by any stretch of the imagination peak vinyl.

Compare vinyl shipments in 1975 and 2013. Well, in 1975, the era of Abba and the Eagles, 45 times more vinyl was shipped.

Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine's email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.

Related Topics