Spinning the Black Circle

Is the music industry stabilizing?

After growing at a steady clip for the past few years, vinyl sales hit a milestone last month, crossing the three-million mark for the first time since Nielsen SoundScan started keeping track in 1991, according to numbers the company released to our sister paper Seattle Weekly. With just weeks left in the year, that's easily enough to beat last year's previous best of 2.8 million vinyl LPs sold.

Leading the pack is the Beatles' perennial vinyl seller Abbey Road and Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues, which has sold more vinyl LPs in a single year than any other new release in the SoundScan era. The Seattle band's sophomore album has sold over 26,000 LPs since its May release, compared to 31,000 for Abbey Road and 22,000 for Bon Iver's self-titled release from June.

The three million LPs sold is still a very small part of total album sales — just over 1 percent of the 255 million albums sold so far this year. And album sales are in no danger of reaching the 785-million mark they reached in 2000, before piracy took off. But album sales are up 3 percent, the largest year-over-year gain since 2004; digital album sales have climbed 20 percent; and CD sales, which had fallen off between 18 and 21 percent annually each of the previous four years, are down just 4 percent in 2011 from the 2010 mark. Even cassettes have seen an uptick: SoundScan says year-to-date sales have risen from 16,000 to 25,000 tapes.

Monica Fuentes

"I think we're starting to see some settling," says music-industry analyst Mike McGuire. "I think some people who were casually using file trading and torrents are realizing the online side is maturing, there's more and more content available, and many times it's easier to pay for it than hunt it down for free. For the industry, that's some progress."

Russ Crupnick, an analyst with market-research firm The NPD Group, says that the quality of music is having an effect on sales. While piracy took a chunk out of the industry's bottom line over the past decade, Crupnick says a lack of musical innovation took a large toll, too ("It's been the first time in my life that there hasn't been a new kind of genre in at least a decade," he says). But new, quality records from artists like Adele, Lady Gaga and Eminem, Crupnick says, are ones that people want to own physical copies of — to which he attributes the slower dip in CD sales, even as digital sales continue to climb.

"I think the repertoire has an awful lot to do at least with maintaining physical [sales]," Crupnick says. "If the repertoire...gets weak, you could see some slippage again."

Houston top sales of vinyl albums for 2011
Lists compiled by Craig Hlavaty

Vinal Edge

1. Anthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce)

2. Wild Flag, Wild Flag (Merge)

3. Talk Talk, Laughing Stock (Ba Da Bing)

4. Beach Boys, The Smile Sessions (Capitol)

5. Comus, First Utterance (Rise Above)

Black Dog Records

1. Broken Bell, Broken Bells (Columbia)

2. Ponderosa, Ponderosa (New West)

3. Charles Bradley, No Time For Dreaming (Daptone)

4. The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Capitol)

5. Pink Floyd, The Dark Side Of The Moon (Capitol)

Vinyl Junkie

1. Algernon Cadwallader, Some Kind Of Cadwallader (Hot Green)

2. The Secret Prostitutes, Nevermind the KBD, This is A.D.D. (Bad Hair Life)

3. The Burden, Feral Children (Death Exclamation)

4. Hatred Surge/Mammoth Grinder, Split Release (Cyclopean)

5. American Nightmare, 4 Song Demo (Malfunction)

Cactus Music

1. Robert Ellis, Photographs (New West) 

2. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

3. Foo Fighters, Medium Rare (Roswell) 

4. Mumford & Sons, ­Dharohar Project EP (Glassnote)

5. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

My Voice Nation Help

Unfortunately those soundscan numbers are decieving too because while CDs are mostly sold at mainstream places that report to soundscan (best buy, walmart, etc), most of the DIY record stores i know of dont report to soundscan. Here at Vinyl Junkie, i report 0% to soundscan, so every record sold doesnt get counted in that 3 million (not that i sell that many myself......but there are hundreds of independent record stores around the country that are the same.) I sell multiple thousand records a year, and im a small store, so thats probably hundreds of thousands in vinyl sales that dont get counted. There are a dozen or more punk/hardcore releases i can think of off the top of my head that sold out of pressings in the thousands that neither the stores, the labels, or any distributor would be reporting, so im the sure the number of vinyl sales is quite a bit higher! While mainstream / major labels may be catching on to the latest upswing in vinyl sales, the diy circuit has always been going strong through all the ups and downs.


I've never quit the vinyl even thought it tried to quit me.

That being said, cheap tinty-sounding MP3s are driving sales of vinyl today.

Some of the world is slowly waking up.

And the quality of music is and always has been there. It was just hard to find because anyone with Garage Band software was making music for sale and fools were falling for it.

Thankfully that dirty trend is also dying.


Your store is on my Christmas shopping list.

Houston Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri