2021's Big Record Scratch: Vinyl Takes the Edge Over CDs

For first time in 30-year tracking history, the analog medium outpaced compact discs
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2022 3:16 PM CST
2021's Big Record Scratch: Vinyl Takes the Edge Over CDs
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Andrey Deryabin)

Streaming seems to be where it's at these days, but music formats of yesteryear haven't given up the ghost quite yet. MRC Data, which has been tracking music data since 1991, has released its annual report, and it notes that 2021 was a "game-changing" year. First, CD sales jumped from 40.2 million units in 2020 to 40.6 million in 2021—the first time such sales have increased year over year since 2004, notes MarketWatch. Making even bigger waves, however, were vinyl albums, sales of which last peaked in the mid-'80s, before cassette tapes and CDs took over. Vinyl sales volume jumped 50.4% in 2021, with 41.7 million units sold—making it the first time in MRC's 30-year tracking history that sales of vinyl albums outpaced that of CDs.

Quartz notes that although vinyl has been making a comeback over the past decade, the especially renewed appeal over the past year can be attributed to a variety of factors, including older listeners feeling nostalgic for the format they grew up with, younger listeners becoming curious about the analog grooved discs, and consumers wanting to more tangibly support favorite artists as live music venues shuttered during the pandemic. Per CNN, whether one built up one's vinyl or CD collection, a single artist in particular helped drive the surge in sales for such physical formats. Adele's 30 sold 108,000 vinyl albums in its first week, the second-biggest vinyl sales week for an album since 1991.

Taylor Swift's Red rerelease and Olivia Rodrigo's Sour also helped push vinyl sales. Meanwhile, a Target CD of Adele's 30 album, which had three exclusive bonus tracks, sold 378,000 copies in its first week—"making it easily the biggest CD sales week of 2021," per the MRC report. Still, we can expect streaming via platforms like Spotify and Apple Music to stick around for a while, per MarketWatch: Last year saw a new single-year high of 988.1 billion audio streams, a nearly 13% jump from 2020. The most streamed song of 2021 was Dua Lipa's "Levitating," which enjoyed 626.6 million streams. (Read more vinyl stories.)

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