Vinyl still ain't dead: the UK's listening habits revealed

In an era of music increasingly dominated by online streaming, there has been plenty of speculation about the ‘death’ of the physical formats: vinyl, CD, tape. However, judging by the UK’s music buying habits across the last year, it looks like there is still plenty of resistance and more than a few reasons to be optimistic.

While CD sales saw another bad year in 2018, vinyl records continued their resurgence and cassette tapes continued to enjoy the gradual but definite comeback we were on about a few years back.

We’ve taken a look at the industry facts and figures from the past year and plugged in some juicy insights of our own to give you a unique overview of the UK’s listening habits.

Vinyl record sales still rising

There is no more fulfilling way to listen to music than via vinyl record. Yes, we are a bit biased on the subject - but that doesn’t stop it being true. Placing a record on a turntable and listening, uninterrupted, through your favourite album is always going to be more satisfying than letting a streaming service shuffle you through their algorithm-driven playlists.

The huge success of Record Store Day (this year on Saturday 13th April) illustrates just how much the format has captured the public’s imagination, with music fans queueing round the block for a chance to get themselves a stack of sought-after LPs.

And Brits en masse are apparently wising up to this, as sales across the UK have grown year-on-year over the last decade.

UK vinyl record sales: 2003-2018

UK Vinyl Record Sales: 2003-2018
Year Sales (millions)
2003 0.58
2004 0.45
2005 0.35
2006 0.25
2007 0.21
2008 0.21
2009 0.22
2010 0.23
2011 0.34
2012 0.39
2013 0.78
2014 1.29
2015 2.12
2016 3.23
2017 4.10
2018 4.20
UK's vinyl record sales from 20013-2018. Source: British Phonographic Industry

Vinyl record sales are now at their highest level since the early 90s with over 1 in 10 of all physical albums purchased now on vinyl. In total, there were 4.2 million records sold in the UK during 2018. Not bad for a dead format.

This is something we’ve experienced first-hand. Here’s what the vinyl record resurgence looks like from Norman Records HQ:

A decade of vinyl trends here at Norman Records

A decade of vinyl trends here at Norman Records

Here at Norman Records, sales of vinyl rose by 450% from 2008 to 2018. If all of these records were stacked, they would be as tall as the Walkie Talkie in London. What else?

  • In 2008 we shipped 6 tonnes of vinyl records. This is equivalent to a fully-grown elephant.
  • As of 2018 this has increased to 24 tonnes of vinyl records. This is equivalent to 55 grand pianos.
  • There is increasing interest in vinyl releases of TV soundtracks and video game soundtracks.
  • And some of the most popular purchases include vinyl reissues (over 25 tonnes sold from 2008), film soundtracks (6.5 tonnes sold from 2008) and coloured vinyl variants (10 tonnes sold since 2008).
Source: Norman Records sales data, 2008-2018.

CDs drop off...

While plenty of music fans are still making use of their CD players (including the people that inexplicably helped get three Now That’s What I Call Music compilations into 2018’s top 10 albums), there has been a sharp decline in the numbers being sold across the past decade.

32 million CDs were sold in 2018 – that’s almost 100 million fewer than in 2008. Ouch. Although this isn’t really surprising when you consider that sales are experiencing an average drop of 9.6 million sales year-on-year.

Decline of UK CD album sales: 2009-2018

Decline of UK CD album sales: 2009-2018
Year Sales (millions)
2009 112.5
2010 98.5
2011 86.2
2012 69.4
2013 60.6
2014 55.7
2015 53.6
2016 47.3
2017 41.6
2018 32
Decline of UK CD album sales: 2009-2018. Source: British Phonographic Industry

But cassette tapes continue to rally (slightly)

On the flip side of that coin, however,  2018’s cassette tape sales saw a drastic leap of 125.3% when compared to 2017 and accounted for the largest volume sold since 2004. Nearly 50,000 cassette albums were bought last year, according to new figures from the British Phonographic Industry.

2018’s biggest-selling act on cassette was The 1975: their latest album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, sold a very decent indeed 7,523 copies.

They were joined in the top 10 by The Prodigy (their no.1 album No Tourists reaching 2,148 cassette sales) and both editions of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack - Awesome Mix 1 & 2 - which have maintained popularity thanks to savvy marketing focused on the use of the tape format by Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord in the Marvel films.

Rise of UK cassette tape sales: 2013-2018

Rise of UK cassette tape sales: 2013-2018
Year Sales (thousands)
2013 4.3
2014 5.7
2015 5.8
2016 10.9
2017 20
2018 50
Rise of UK cassette tape sales: 2013-2018. Source: British Phonographic Industry & The Official Charts Company.

For more vinyl news and music trends

Like any good story, there are plenty of ups and downs in the physical music market but – where vinyl and tape are concerned – it seems like the next few years will continue their upward trend. Not all music fans have yielded to the siren call of Spotify quite yet.

For more insights into music trends - and the chance to test your vinyl artwork knowledge - check out our features section.

Albums of the Year 2018

Albums of the Year 2018

2018 was another fine year for music. But you wanna know the best of the best, right?

That's what our Albums of the Year 2018 list is for. The best new albums and reissues to have graced our ears in 2018.

Cryptic Vinyl Challenge

Try our vinyl challenge

Fancy testing your cover art know-how? Try our Cryptic Vinyl Challenge, featuring some of the best albums from the 60s onwards.

Do you have what it takes to identify all 30?

Take the challenge »