Vinyl, Cassettes & Retail

A Graphic Look At 25 Years Of Music Sales

image from There's something particularly sad about this chart. Whatever the format – 8-track, LP, cassette, CD – every one has its day and then sales decline as it is  replaced by new formats. Then in 2005 comes digital music, which according to the stats from the RIAA as interpreted by Bain show how, for the first time in 25 years, a new format has not sparked increased interest in music. The declines can't just be blamed on the digital format, but it does lead to the big: Is there a new format – perhaps with better audio or enhanced with additional content – that could push the lines on the chart upward again? The Chart:

image from

Share on:


  1. As has been documented many times before, the music industry benefited greatly from people replacing their LP & tape collections with CDs, so the entire CD era is an anomaly to begin with.
    But I totally disagree with the assertion that the digital age has not sparked increased interest in music, quite the contrary. I believe (as do countless others) that music is being consumed more today than ever before. It’s just happening in many different ways now (downloads, streaming, YouTube, subscriptions, etc., etc.). Music is everywhere and an integral part of life, in commercials, online videos, online ads, movies, TV, web tv, radio, internet radio, satellite radio, subscription services, websites, social media, etc. Just because digital revenues are not at the same level as the glory days of CD sales, doesn’t mean that interest in music has declined.
    My 2 cents…

    Dave Cool
    (Yes, that’s my real name!)
    Friend of the Indie Artist. Sometimes Documentary Filmmaker!/dave_cool

  2. This is not adjusted for inflation. I think it’s hard to make reasonable arguments or analysis based on that problem.

  3. There’s a new format: youtube. Lots of people i know, nowadays dont buy or download music – they rather prefer to search for it on youtube. That could be one of the reasons that music sales decreased over time without any raises.
    And coincidentally that would be correct around 2005 – the youtube world premiere… just to fit that graph.

  4. Nope – the interest in music is not declining – it’s been set free! Seems to me with the digital age and the ease of self-publishing – the middle-men dinosaurs – who are not re-inventing themselves are going extinct just like newspaper publishing. With the Internet the money goes directly to the artist – what a concept! I predict – over time – software that allows anyone to create their own music score will become more prevalent – to produce and self-publish music. Dramatic changes are upon us in the digital age – focusing on individual creativity with self-distribution eliminating the too-big-to-fail middle-men distributor leach-fests sucking-off the tits of individual creativity!

  5. I agree that there are problem with these stats and I don;t have access to the Bain study or methodology. But as I said near the end of the piece, the chart made me think…

  6. Not only YouTube but services such a Grooveshark, Pandora, all provide the music experience and opportunity to discover and play without purchase. Many indie artist opt to host their music on sites like BandCamp and SoundCloud, which allow for the free distribution of their music.
    It’s the rise of the DIY world, and exposure and socializing are large parts of the game.

  7. wouldn’t it be nice if someone could do a chart on sales figures rather than price… we all know that the price of CD’s etc have dropped dramatically but are there really less sales transactions?

  8. The chart is misleading, and the analysis is wrong. Equating interest in music with sales revenue is a false equivalency.
    Digital sales are increasing (the distance between the bottom and top of the red trend line is growing.) It only appears to be going down because the physical sales beneath the red portion of the graph is collapsing faster than digital is rising.
    Blame piracy, blame the shite economy, blame people ripping their CDs rather than handing over more money to the RIAA, blame dwidling retail space, blame disappearing record stores, blame overproduced bland product, blame MTV replacing music videos (aka free marketing) with teen moms that are selling more magazine covers than CDs, blame a new product that will not need to be replaced because they won’t wear out from overplay, warp from leaving it in the car, or scratch from stacking them on your desk.
    The only thing that is going to replace digital downloads is streaming, and that won’t show up on this chart because the RIAA wants to SELL music, not rent it.

  9. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would write a story without blindly accepting RIAA information as a basis for reality. That’s what makes it Journalism and not a Press Release.

  10. Sales=interest? No.
    It’s not the middlemen and gatekeepers that have been eliminated, it’s the fucking transaction. Not good for dinosaurs or artists, favorable to anyone with an Internet connection.
    I look forward to the day when the hipster doofuses that preach here stop flying meaningless industry theories and tiny achievments up the flagpole and tell us how to solve the real problem; convincing an end user that buying is better than free.
    Until that day, all the social networking theories, etc mean nothing.

  11. Sadly no one here takes into consideration the 1000’s and 1000’s of people that work in the music biz (making 25,000-50,000 a year) and how streaming and piracy effects their lives. 100’s of assistants, managers, coordinators, marketing, production people etc…are losing their jobs each month at labels, distribution and retail. Watch how quickly you lose out as DIY bands of the future never make it to your ears. Only bands/solo artist with a lot of money from daddy’s pocket will float to the top (LMFAO, Far East Movement etc) because labels won’t be around to float the money to real talent.

  12. Wait wait wait.. Were all missing the big picture.. In 2004-2005 someone, not sure who, but someone bought a cassette tape! Lol @gexo

  13. Also important to define “music industry”. The chart’s data refers to sales of recorded music, right? But the music industry might also be thought to include publishing, licensing, merchandise, touring, etc., many of which are booming. Haven’t ASCAP and BMI both had benchmark years recently?
    So just important to note that there is still massive public interest and use of music and there is still monetization going on, just not necessarily in the traditional ways.

  14. Sorry Jacob, but touring and mercy sales are way off as well. Yes publishing and licensing is up (booming if you want to say) compared to 10 years ago when there were hardly and sync seals going on with cable tv shows, but let’s be real…overall the industrynis way off and there are a ton of regular peeps like you and I losing their jobs due to piracy…manufacturing facilities, warehouses, music retailers, people that create the artwork, managers, assistants, regular young adults in the biz.

  15. I am a musician and songwriter. I play rock, blues, country, folk. I cannot find a station in our large metropolitan area that plays music I can stand to listen to, so I am sure not going to buy it.
    There is a lot of great music being created every day but it does not find its way to the radio and hence is not purchased by the casual listener.

  16. This graphic is hard to take seriously. As if the “music industry” is one monolithic thing that is solely represented by the RIAA.
    We’ve been told over and over again that the new era is gonna be spearheaded by little mom & pop and indie efforts that are not selling gazillions but mid-level respectable amounts to sustain a touring, merch and niche career. Third Man Records here in Nashville is doing just that.
    Also where is the resurgence of vinyl in this graphic. I’ll tell you where – nowhere. Because the RIAA/Majors don’t see it as part of their biz model just yet.
    So forgive me if I don’t slice my wrists over an RIAA graphic.

Comments are closed.