Peak Vinyl at the End of the World

Fans are purchasing physical music at record highs, but at what cost?

Peak Vinyl at the End of the World
Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante / Unsplash

According to Billboard, in December 2021, U.S. vinyl sales hit the highest weekly sales since MRC Data began tracking music sales in 1991...whatever that means!

In response to the abrupt end of live performance, many music fans shifted their expendable income – once spent on concerts, to instead purchase albums online at record numbers. It's been heartwarming to see fans try to help prop up record stores and musicians with online orders, as futile as this may end up being in the long term.

There are real problems accompanying the increased vinyl sales in tandem with devastating supply chain issues resulting from government overreach. Capacity at pressing plants is notoriously limited, and often hoarded by major labels. Bands selling through initial pressings of a new release are unable to keep the momentum — when reorders that used to arrive in a few months, now don't arrive for 12 + months. It's difficult to anticipate demand with such long lead times. Over order, and you're stuck with a costly stock liability. Under order, and you're potentially missing out on an often time sensitive window of opportunity.

Sure, fans are purchasing physical music at record highs, but at what cost? Has the increase in vinyl sales made up for the loss of tour revenue for musicians? I doubt it. Is selling 50% more physical records – which is typically less than a third of total revenue per album – as rewarding as performing live in front of fans? I definitely doubt that.

I'm suspicious of anyone trying to paint this as good news. While a well run e-commerce presence is beneficial to musicians (I <3 mailorder)  I hope music fans aren't willing to ignore the huge hole left where live performance, personal autonomy and freedom of expression used to live.

We can't fill that hole with records.