Album sales decreased in 2020 across digital and physical. During the year everything else seemed to be in free fall, vinyl sales shot up by a staggering 46.2% according to MRC Data’s 2020 year-end report.
Vinyl sales have been steadily increasing for the past 15 years. The trend continued in 2020, and vinyl had its biggest year in units sold since MRC Data started keeping track in 1991.
Despite constant growth in sales, there are two reasons why vinyl sales growth appears so big in 2020: Record Store Day and accurate reporting.
The first Record Store Day took place in 2008, starting a legacy and tradition of celebrating the unique culture of record stores and everyone in them. Usually, on the day of, music lovers and vinyl aficionados come out and support indie record stores while getting their hands on special releases.
In 2020, the community rallied to show indie stores extra support during a time when small businesses struggled intensely under the toll of the pandemic. While Record Store Day is usually an event in April and November, it became a four-part series in 2020. This helped drive sales.
“Record Store Day by and large brought vinyl back from the dead in 2008, so we are widely known by music fans as the best source for getting vinyl today,” Record Store Day co-founder Michael Kurtz said in MRC Data’s year-end report.
“Because of this, the stores had the confidence to innovate and figure out safe ways for music fans to shop with them in their store or curbside. If they couldn’t, because of things like lockdowns, they sold to their customers online. All together, they made for a really strong year,” Kurtz said.
In 2019, there were 18.8 million U.S. vinyl sales. In 2020, there were 27.5 million. According to MRC Data, Black Friday and holiday shopping also set record highs for weekly sales and helped contribute to the overall sales increase.
Another huge influence on the leap in vinyl sales is the fact that indie record stores often underreport sales numbers to avoid attracting competition from bigger, corporate sellers who could take their business. With foot traffic down, the pandemic forced a focus on digital sales, which led stores to report more accurate numbers. Because of this, it’s likely the real figure is less than the 46.2% sales increase.
2020’s top three vinyl artists include Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Queen—and in that order. Based on total album sales, Styles’s Fine Line was the No. 4 album, while Bille Eilish’s When We All Asleep, Where Do We Go? placed No. 5, according to MRC Data. Queen’s Greatest Hits was 2020’s No. 1 rock album.
2020 was a most unprecedented year, but 2021 might be too. As the pandemic continues looming, so does the uncertainty of what’s next with music. Either way, vinyl sales aren’t going anywhere soon.