The Washington Post

Vinyl record sales have hit their highest point since 1997


It looks like all those Record Store Days might have paid off: According to a new industry report, vinyl record sales in 2012 hit their highest point since 1997 — you know, the same year Radiohead released “OK Computer” and Hanson’s “MMMBop” topped the charts.

The report, published by the quaintly-named International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, tallies $171 million in global vinyl sales in 2012, up 52 percent from the year before. That echoes other reports, including Nielsen’s most recent Soundscan, which have found strong growth in vinyl sales over the past five years — not to mention a steady uptick in vinyl-related Kickstarters and analog fan blogs.

The reason for the resurgence varies, depending whom you ask. There’s no argument that vinyl, with its grooves and pops and imperfections, sounds a lot different (some would say better) than the digitally-sampled perfection of MP3s and CDs. CDs do, for the record, still exist, though at roughly half the volume they did five years ago.


It also probably helps that independent record stores and labels have, since 2008, made a concentrated effort to market vinyl. Every third Saturday of April, labels offer limited-edition vinyl records at some 700 independent stores. The event has morphed into something of a cultural phenomenon, and independent stores have, per Nielsen, seen a gain in sales.

Many labels have also begun promoting records in other ways: packaging them with MP3 download codes, for instance, or selling them as part of collectors’ bundles.

But the real reason for the digital-age popularity of such a distinctly analog item might lie right there, in that weird conceptual divide between “real” things and the less tangible, more transient virtual ones: books and e-books, newspapers and Web sites, records and MP3s. Since the virtual things are only getting more popular — digital album sales rose 15 percent last year, and Pandora just hit 200 million users — the backlash seems reasonable.

“The most pure form of music is on vinyl. Period. Absolutely,” D.C.-bred songwriter Benjy Ferree told the Post’s David Malitz in 2009. “Vinyl is a hardback book … I don’t like the idea that I can’t see it or feel it.”

You can decide if Ferree and his fellow vinyl fans are purist audiophiles, as they claim, or nostalgia fetishists looking for a high-fidelity fix.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Making family dinnertime happen
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
In search of the Delmarva fox squirrel
The most interesting woman you've never heard of
Play Videos
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Next Story
Chris Richards · April 9, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.