Nielsen SoundScan 2008 Sales Figures Released: LP Sales Up 89 Percent -- And Neutral Milk Hotel Breaks the Top Ten
Among the many fascinating revelations in the recently released Nielsen SoundScan 2008 sales tally of recorded music product is the ranking of the year's top vinyl sellers. As anyone reading this probably knows, the music industry is in the middle of a much ballyhooed "vinyl revival." Publications far and wide have reported on the recurrent interest in black wax and analog sound, and the SoundScan numbers do indeed confirm a trend. In 2008, sales of LPs were up by an impressive 89%, from 990,000 in '07 to 1.88 million this year. It's an astounding number considering that the combined sales of CDs, LPs and digital files fell 14% this year.
But what's more surprising is the amount of hoo-ha and media coverage this relatively insubstantial corner of the market is receiving given the marketshare in the overall scheme. Consider this: the total number of all units of music sold this year (CD, digital, LP, ringtones combined) was over 1.5 billion, up a decent 10.5 percent from 2007. The number of LP sales in the US was a mere .01 percent of the total. Radiohead's In Rainbows was the top selling LP of last year (see chart above), and it sold 25,800 copies. The band sold more tickets to two nights at the Hollywood Bowl than they sold copies of the record in America. And yet this little smidgen of the business received so much ink and screenspace that by mid 2008 it was already an old and tired story. (Don't get me wrong; I love vinyl as much as the next dweeb.)
Yeah, the little revival is interesting among tactile-digging music geeks who like the heft of an LP. But there's no indication that LP sales stand any chance of cutting into CD or digital album sales (65.8 million, up 32 percent from last year). Rather, LP income is maybe paying for the pastries at Capitol's weekly marketing meetings.
Still, the vinyl top ten is an interesting list to contemplate. Among the entries are seven all-male rock bands and two mixed gender bands, all white, most of the rock persuasion, and more specifically of the art rock persuasion: That Radiohead's In Rainbows topped the charts this year is a no brainer. They're an album band. But look closer. The Beatles entry isn't Rubber Soul, Revolver or even Sgt. Pepper, but the more languid, prog-rocky Let it Be, which was very deliberately created as two 20-minute suites of music. The rest of the monochromatic list consists of similarly arty guitar bands: Neutral Milk Hotel (10,200 units for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, tied, somewhat fittingly, with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon), Fleet Foxes, and, yes, Metallica. The odd-duck entry on the list is the B-52s' Funplex, which didn't seem to make much of an impact in the marketplace anywhere but among vinyl buyers.
The above chart I created just because it's a revealing look at American musical tastes among the digitally inclined.