While streaming is the music industry’s cash cow these days, CDs aren’t dead yet. According to the Recording Industry Association of America CD sales rose 21 percent to $584 million in 2021, marking the first annual increase in CD sales in the United States . The RIAA notes that many record stores have reopened and artists have resumed selling music at shows after COVID-19 put everything on hold.
As in the past 15 years, vinyl sales continue to grow. Revenue rose a whopping 61 percent to $1 billion in 2021. It’s the first time since 1986 that vinyl sales have reached this milestone. Including other formats, US physical music sales totaled $1.66 billion last year.
The RIAA notes that the only major recorded format that saw sales decline over the past year was digital downloads. Sales fell 12 percent to $587 million — just $3 million more than CD earnings for 2021.
Unsurprisingly, streaming earnings are still skyrocketing. Including platforms such as digital radio, total revenue rose 23.8 percent to $12.4 billion last year. Paid subscriptions accounted for $9.5 billion of that (up 23 percent from 2020). According to the RIAA, the number of paid subscriptions rose by 11 percent to an average of 84 million. Numbers can vary throughout the year as people cancel memberships and sign up.
While artists have long been demanding from platforms, streaming is by far the most important revenue generator for the music industry, accounting for 83 percent of total revenue. Nonetheless, the increase in physical media sales is encouraging for fans of this format and should reassure artists that they can still make money selling CDs. Record stores will be around for a while.
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