The skinny (or maybe the fat) on vinyl in 2020 – and the ten best selling vinyl records of 2020 so far…

(July 11, 2020).  Most industry watchers and record collectors know that vinyl record sales have been on the rise for the past decade and a half.  Vinyl sales have increased in the U.S. every year since 2006.  In just the past couple of years they’ve reached their highest levels since before Nielsen Soundscan began tracking actual point-of-sale data in 1990. 

That means record sales – not CDs, not cassettes, not downloads, but vinyl records – are at their highest levels since the 1980s ended. 

This year has been no exception, as vinyl record sales during the first half of 2020 are up 11.2 percent over the same period in 2019.  According to Billboard Magazine, based on data for the tracking period from Jan. 3 through July 2, vinyl albums sold 9.2 million, up from 8.3 million during the first six months of last year.

And these gains astonishingly occur in a year where – for the past four months – consumer habits have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

These six albums by (clockwise from top left): Beatles, Bob Marley, Queen, Pink Floyd, Billie Eilish and Michael Jackson are among the ten biggest-selling vinyl albums of 2020 so far (see list below).

On the contrary, CD sales fell by 30.2% to 18.51 million (down from 26.53 million in 2019’s first half).  That not only continues the nearly 20-year slide from CDs’ sales peak in 2000, but it means the gap between CDs and vinyl records is closing significantly when comparing just unit sales figures.  From a revenue perspective, however, with vinyl records carrying a minimum list price of $24.99, vinyl albums closed and reversed that gap some time ago. 

Vinyl’s numbers – like that of the other traditional album consumption forms (CDs and whole LP downloads) – continue to pale in comparison to streaming data, which is still king among all media forms when it comes to how people consume music these days.

For the three main non-streaming forms of album purchases – vinyl LPs, CDs, and whole album downloads – the numbers stack up like this for the first half of 2020:

Medium2020 unit sales thru June (millions)2019 unit sales thru June (millions)% change
CDs18.5126.5330.2%🔽
Downloads17.6620.614.3%🔽
Vinyl9.28.311.2%🔼

So what were the biggest-selling vinyl records during the year’s first half. 

The album at No. 1 happens to be the biggest album of 2019, Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, which has sold 85,000 vinyl copies so far in 2020.  That’s more than the album has sold via CD (59,000) or whole downloads (55,000).  Who’d have thunk it?

For full context, Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep has a total consumption of 798,000 for 2020, which means that when you subtract out the above traditional album sales total of 199,000 (CD + vinyl + whole downloads), nearly 600,000 of its album-equivalent sales units are due to song streaming (plus negligible individual song downloads).

The No. 2-selling vinyl album of 2020 so far is another 2019 release, Harry Styles’ Fine Line, which was released in December and topped the Billboard 200 that month.  It has sold 61,000 units in 2020 so far.

The remainder of the top-ten selling vinyl albums is an interesting mix of catalog product from established legends and recent trendy titles, including Eilish’s first album Don’t Smile at Me, at No. 9.

And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the biggest-selling vinyl record of all time is on this list (it’s also the biggest-selling album worldwide in all configurations).  Also on the list is the longest-charting album of all time, plus one of the greatest albums by the greatest band of all time. 

Check out the rankings below:

RankAlbumArtist2020 sales
1When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?Billie Eilish 85,000
2Fine LineHarry Styles61,000
3Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1Various56,000
4Greatest Hits Queen56,000
5Abbey RoadBeatles54,000
6The Slow RushTame Impala50,000
7LegendBob Marley47,000
8Dark Side of the MoonPink Floyd44,000
9Don’t Smile at MeBillie Eilish 44,000
10ThrillerMichael Jackson 42,000
Based on a tally by Billboard Magazine and Nielsen Music

If you’re Australian singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Kevin Parker, curator of the psychedelic-rock music project Tame Impala, you have to be pretty happy to be ranked among legends like Bob Marley, Queen, the Beatles and Michael Jackson for the year’s best-selling vinyl albums.  

Notably, Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush is the only 2020 release in this top-10 list (at No. 6). Tame Impala is also the only act in this top ten to never have had a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200.

In closing, no one expects vinyl records to ever catch up to the numbers generated by streaming.  That train has long since left the station.  

But wouldn’t it be interesting if, in the next few years, vinyl’s unit sales actually catch and surpass those of CDs and whole album digital downloads?  At the current rates, that could conceivably happen by 2023.

So what are your thoughts about vinyl’s continued resurgence or this list of its ten bestsellers in 2020 so far?  Feel free to comment either below or on the blog’s social media feeds.  

And keep spinning those records!

Thriller is still the biggest-selling album worldwide.

DJRob

DJRob is an African-American freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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