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Vinyl’s Hot, But Who’s Buying All Those Records?

Vinyl records are selling better than they have in 30 years -- but who the heck is buying all those albums?

New York, NY (April 22, 2022)—Vinyl records sales overtook CDs last year, with vinyl making up 38.3 percent of all U.S. album sales. It was a landmark moment 15 years in the making, one that had been in the works ever since the format began its comeback in 2008, kicking off what became known as The Vinyl Revival. Throughout that time, one question has come up over and over: Who the heck is buying all those albums? Now new research may have an answer.

It’s easy to picture Baby Boomers powering those sales, buying yet another Beatles reissue as they relive the music—and the medium—of their youth. Alternately, there’s been a lot of articles written about Gen Z teens using the money from their first after-school jobs to buy albums that they just display and don’t actually listen to, opting to consume music via streaming while they use a vinyl album as a glorified talisman of fandom—a physical object to be Instagrammed about, proving their undying devotion to a given artist. While there’s plenty of vinyl consumers who fall into each of those broad and perhaps unflattering stereotypes, the real story is more complicated, judging by a new study conducted in March by MusicWatch with the RIAA and the Music Business Association.

The upcoming report, Revelations About the Vinyl Revolution, takes a deep dive into the vinyl record marketplace, offering insights into the purchasers and listeners behind the format’s comeback. The report surveyed nearly 1,400 consumers across the U.S. in nearly every lifestyle segment, including both casual listeners and vinyl enthusiasts. Their psychographic behaviors are observed, including approaches to the vinyl purchasing process, as well as their assessments of sound quality, packaging, the format’s social media value and more.

New US Record Pressing Expansions Aim to Lessen Worldwide Backlog

According to the survey, an estimated 18 million consumers aged 13 and older purchased vinyl during 2021—a 27% increase over 2020. Among buyers of vinyl over the past two years, 71% purchased new records and 67% bought used ones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 95% of vinyl buyers expect to continue purchasing the format in the coming year. Aligning with that statistic, 60% of vinyl buyers are aware of Record Store Day—taking place tomorrow, April 23—and more than half of them plan to visit a physical shop or online site that day.

The report notes that 38% of buyers have been purchasing vinyl for more than 10 years and value the “authenticity” and “warmth” that they feel vinyl records deliver. While younger buyers highlight sound quality and packaging as deciding factors in their purchases, they also appear to be influenced by music artists embracing the format as well.

Record Store Day is One for the Books

Are music fans really just using albums as decorations? For the most part, no—and there’s yet more than you might expect, as 16% of purchasers surveyed reported they buy records strictly to own them, while 21% buy them to collect and listen to. Hand in hand with that, yes, the buyers also have other listening options, and many noted they use streaming services to enjoy music as well.

All that’s fine, but will these new consumers stick with vinyl records, or is the format just a fad? Well, 15 years is a long fad, to be sure, but the signs suggest that not only are they planning to buy more records, but that their buying power will spill into other areas as well. A third of all record buyers say that they intend to upgrade their turntable or other audio equipment in the next year. They also appear to be engage-able in regards to the small businesses surrounding them—and that’s music to the report collaborators’ ears. As Portia Sabin, president of The Music Business Association, noted, “Our organization was pleased to support MusicWatch in its research efforts.  The members of our Physical Business Action Committee worked closely with Russ and his team to help promote more awareness about vinyl record retailers in general and their impact on their communities.”

The full Revelations About the Vinyl Revolution report is due out from MusicWatch on May 5, 2022.