Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Vinyl's Record-Making 2018 Sales Grew 15 Percent In U.S.
Crunching the numbers on Nielsen Music's 2018 sales report showed continued strong momentum for vinyl records with 16.8 million albums sold in the U.S., led by 2014's Guardians Of The Galaxy Soundtrack and Michael Jackson's Thriller. That is the 13th consecutive year of growth for vinyl, coming in at 14.6 percent and the biggest since Nielsen began tracking in 1991. The top-selling vinyl singles in the U.S. were led by the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U."
Billboard has the deep dive into Nielsen's numbers, which show that vinyl's growth continues to be driven by a growing appetite for exclusives — especially for Record Store Day — and an emphasis on acquiring classic rock titles. Rock's share of vinyl album sales has shrunk slightly from more than two-thirds down to 63 percent, and deep catalog titles amounted to 65 percent. The only 2018 new album to break into the vinyl top 10 last year was Panic! At The Disco's Pray For The Wicked.
Comparison with the Official Charts Company's recent statistics for the UK show four releases in the top 10 in common on both sides of the Atlantic, namely Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon, Queen's Greatest Hits, and Amy Winehouse's Back To Black. Britain only had one 2018-release outlier in the top 10 as well: George Ezra's Staying At Tamara's.
Total sales per title might seem small compared to streaming numbers, but they have a strong story to tell. Guardians... and Thriller both came in at about 84k album sales, in fifth place Prince's Purple Rain sold 71k, and at tenth position Pray For The Wicked sold 59k vinyl albums. Total titles breaking 20k in sales were 79, up from 77 in 2017 and 58 in 2016. Total titles breaking 50k in sales were 14, up from just 8 in 2017.
Album-format sales are in decline overall, especially due to streaming, down more than 17 percent to 141 million, making vinyl's 16.8 million sold account for 11.9 percent of the total — not insignificant. Compact disc still dominates physical-only sales with 70.7 million sold last year, but that reflects an annual decline of 20.9 percent. Vinyl's share of total physical sales, including compact disc and cassette, is up more than 19 percent compared to a rise of 14 percent in 2017 and setting a new Nielsen Music record.
In 2017, the week ending Dec. 21 set a vinyl albums sales record at 811k, but that was beaten by two of 2018's Christmas weeks — 880k for the week ending Dec. 20 and 905k for the week ending Dec. 27.
It's no surprise that vinyl album sales are dominated by independent stores, with their great access to exclusives. Internet (e.g., Amazon), mail order and venue sales came in a tiny notch lower than indies' 6.9 million sold, with the two combined accounting for more than 80 percent of the market. Chain stores and mass merchants have taken notice of vinyl's spectacular and steady growth. Target (considered a mass merchant) in particular increased its vinyl display areas and began offering vinyl exclusives of its own. The mass-merchant category jumped from 93k in 2017 by 611 percent to 661k in vinyl album sales.
It would be wrong to call these statistics "record-breaking" when the format dates back before modern measurements, but vinyl is, and has been, coming back in a big way. "Record-making" is the only fair way to describe it, and the end is not in sight.