Today the RIAA revealed numbers showing that vinyl sales made more revenue than ad-supported free streaming services, such as YouTube and Spotify’s free models.
Vinyl sales climbed 32% last year to $416 million, which is the highest they’ve been since 1988, according to the RIAA, which was around the time CDs overtook vinyl and cassettes as the dominant medium for music sales. By contrast, free, ad-supported streaming rose only 31% to $385 million in 2015. The news spurred a number of "Vinyl is back!" headlines once again, although vinyl still only makes up 6% of the music retail sales.
But these numbers only tell part of the story. Even if you include paid subscriptions to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal etc., artists don’t see much of that money. Spotify themselves admit to paying only between $0.006 and $0.0084 to labels and rights holders per stream (this number combines all paid and unpaid user streams and also takes into account the share labels take). Once labels take their share, an artist might make only $0.001128 per song, according to the Guardian. And these services aren’t even profitable yet.
While streaming might pay out decently for the likes of someone popular like, say, Kendrick Lamar or Katy Perry, who get tens of millions of streams, the payouts are paltry for mid-level and independent artists. Numbers vary as far as how much artists actually make per physical album sold — it can be around 11% when you factor in deductions, according to Rollingstone. But while a nice piece of vinyl can sometimes feel like a splurge, it’s always worth remembering that buying an album physically is a better way of supporting the artists making the music than streaming.