How would you assess the health of the vinyl market in 2019?

Interest in vinyl remains impressively buoyant, with 4.2 million LP unit sales translating to just over £57 million in revenues for UK record labels in 2018 (worth over £90 million at retail). This accounted for a healthy 7 per cent of trade income. 

“It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the format’s rate of growth dipped a little in 2018, to 3.7per cent, given that we have now enjoyed eleven years of consecutive growth.  We shouldn’t overlook, too, challenging like-for-like comparisons with 2017 and phenomenal sales of Ed Sheeran’s Divide across all formats.  That said, 3.7 per cent more vinyl albums were purchased last year, and since 2015 there has been a remarkable 128 per cent rise in sales, eclipsed only by the continuing shift towards streaming over the same period (+203%).

“So I think it’s fair to say that the vinyl market is in a good place and that LPs have carved an important and healthy niche for themselves in the overall music mix.

What has the 'vinyl revival' meant for the industry as a whole?

“A decade-plus of growth has allowed vinyl to re-establish its commercial credentials alongside the cultural significance that it has always enjoyed as a much-loved symbol of our nation’s music’s heritage.  Fans love to buy it, artists love to record on it, journalists love to write about it - it’s taken on the mantle of representing the heart and soul of music.

“Propelled by the impetus created by Record Store Day and by the love shown from labels in producing deluxe-quality releases that fans have a real passion to buy, own and collect, vinyl arguably played a key role in helping to provide a lifeline to many independent stores when they needed it most.  In turn, and to their credit, the indie sector fashioned a real USP around the format, helping to elevate the ritual that exists around browsing for it and buying it instore. Specialist chains HMV and Fopp also embraced it, and even supermarkets have dedicated floor-space to it. 

“Let’s not forget too that vinyl also matters hugely to many recording artists - who, alongside the album format that itself is so strongly associated with the LP (a relationship now celebrated by National Album Day), often see vinyl as the ultimate medium through which to express they creativity and to tell their story. If you were to ask artists, I imagine many will say that releasing on vinyl is a real badge of honour for them that somehow helps to reinforce their sense of authenticity.  

“One final factor to bear in mind is that vinyl (and physical formats generally) appears to have a complementary relationship with streaming - the two formats coexist and support each other: we increasingly stream for discovery and ease of access and for our daily music fix, but we’re also likely to want to buy, own, gift and collect the music we most love on vinyl, box sets - and still CD too for that matter. So vinyl has helped to shape a new and exciting music eco-system, where we now have more ways than ever before to discover and enjoy the music we all love.    

What are the main challenges facing the vinyl market?

“With any product that has enjoyed so many years of continuous growth, there is always a challenge in keeping its appeal fresh and that sense of novelty and cutting edge. The main practical issue is not likely to be demand, however - I think there’s plenty of that to go around still (witness the response to this weekend’s Record Store Day) - but one of supply, given the difficulties in developing increased production capacity.  The question we have to ask ourselves is whether supply is approaching saturation point.  There is also the possibility of Brexit affecting the free movement of physical product in terms of imports and exports, and potentially a knock-on impact on costs and price too - although we and our partners in the music industry will work hard pressing Government to prevent or to minimise this.   

How do you expect the market to look in another 12 months - is there room for further growth?

“Demand for vinyl will always be boosted by the excitement generated by new artist releases - and I’m sure this will be the case again this year.  We also now have the prospect of an HMV and Fopp revitalised under new ownership that has already signalled its intent to invest more floor-space and commitment to music and vinyl in particular - so that has to be encouraging news for the format too.   But whilst we will continue to see growing demand for vinyl, the possible supply issues mean that its rate of growth may come down to a more consolidated, stable level.  This arguably may not be such a bad thing if it helps to sustain the excitement and niche appeal of the format, and prevent it from becoming overly mundane and ubiquitous. But overall I think we can look forward with a measure of optimism.”

Chris Green, BPI Director of Research