More than 3.2m LPs were sold last year, a rise of 53% on last year and the highest number since 1991 when Simply Red’s Stars was the bestselling album. This was also the first year that spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads.
The deaths of some music world giants was a key driver in vinyl sales, as people invested in records as a mementos. After David Bowie’s death he became the bestselling vinyl artist of 2016, with five albums posthumously featuring in the top 30.
His album Blackstar, which was shortlisted for a Mercury prize, was the most popular selling album of the year, while The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, Nothing Has Changed and Changesonebowie were also popular LPs.
The statistics, compiled by BPI, show that this is the ninth consecutive year that vinyl has grown, thanks to events such as record store day, which has now become a nationwide phenomenon, and the increase in shops selling vinyl. Supermarkets such as Tesco now stock vinyl and both HMV and Rough Trade have created more floor space to sell more records.
At least 30 albums sold more than 10,000 copies in 2016, a stark contrast to 2007 when digital downloads began to take hold and a meagre total of 200,000 LPs were sold overall.
Vanessa Higgins, the CEO of Regent Street and Gold Bar Records, and an independent label member of BPI Council, said: “It’s twofold in that older people are going back to vinyl but I also think the younger generation are discovering it in a way they weren’t before.
“People think millennials just stream and are just digital but actually I think we are going to see increasingly over this coming year that young people still want something tangible and real and that’s where vinyl is taking on the role that the CD used to have.”
She said the trend towards streaming – which has rocketed 500% since 2013, with 45bn audio streams over 2016 – had led people back to vinyl as a way of tangibly owning music and because streaming had encouraged music discovery.
Higgins said: “It used to be music discovery was mainly limited to the radio, but now people are free to look and listen to all sorts of music, so people are hearing so much more new or different music than they were before. They are finding music through streaming and if they love it, they are going out and investing in it in a physical format.”
Higgins said it was still mainly benefiting artists on major labels, and that for smaller labels such as hers “the capital required to invest in vinyl is a lot upfront. And because most vinyl is pressed in Europe, the price to manufacture has gone up this year.”
However, she added: “I think what we are going to see this year is more smaller artists and independent labels start to benefit from vinyl as well because so many different types of music fans are now willing to go out and buy it.”
Higgins predicted the digital download would disappear entirely over the next few years as it became redundant.
While vinyl sales still only account for 5% of the albums market, they are becoming increasingly important sources of income for record labels and musicians.
Jamie Oborne, the manager of Mercury-nominated band the 1975, whose debut album was Urban Outfitters’ biggest selling vinyl of 2015, said: “There’s been this cultural shift where people are willing to pay for music again which is brilliant. We now sell a ton of vinyl and the margins on vinyl are huge so it is really a significant source of revenue for us.”
The boost in vinyl sales is part of a wider shift in the fortunes of the music industry back towards turning a profit again. In December, one the biggest global record labels, Warner Music, reported their best profits in eight years, of which $1bn (£810m) came directly from streaming, and in the first half of 2016, streaming revenue in the US grew by 57% to $1.6bn. In contrast, CD sales were down 10% on last year.
Geoff Taylor, the chief executive of the BPI and the Brit Awards, said: “Growth in UK music consumption in 2016 was fuelled by the explosive rise in audio streaming, which has increased 500% since 2013, and relative resilience from physical formats … We believe this performance is indicative of the promise of a new era for music, where recorded music’s investments in a digital future fuel compelling benefits for fans, artists and the entire music ecosystem.”
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