It’s no longer a surprise when you read a headline or article about vinyl sales hitting a new recent high. Despite what any of the predictions might have said, the round pieces of plastic still keep selling. More and more people can’t wait to get their hands on any version that’s out there, even if they’re not intending to play them (which I find curious). That said, a recent article forecasts that vinyl demand is so great that it’s actually at least double that of the entire worldwide manufacturing capacity, and that’s a real problem.
The global capacity for manufactured vinyl albums currently sits at 160 million, yet the demand is estimated at more than double that at 320 to as much as 400 million. Consider the fact that the highest year ever for vinyl sales in the U.S. was 334 million, and you can see that there’s about a $1 billion worth of business that simply can’t be fulfilled.
Back in the good old days of vinyl pressing, the wait time for manufacturing was 2 to 3 months. Now it can be anywhere form 10 to 12 months.
Like many other industries, the vinyl pressing business has been impacted by delays in just about every place in the supply chain. From lacquer masters, to the PVC pellets that become the actual disk, to the printers that make up the sleeves and jackets, everything is running behind.
So why is vinyl suddenly so hot? For one thing, the big box stores like Target and Walmart have bought in big time, causing the average vinyl pressing order to go from around 3,700 to more than 7,000. That’s caused a strain on the entire supply chain that can’t be resolved overnight. It’s also caused the average price of an album to increase from $21.71, where it held steady since 2011, to $27.11 in 2020.
Another major reason was the fact that the pandemic caused many plants to temporarily close, then resume operations with a reduced staff to honor social distancing rules, which then caused a reduced output. At the same time, interest in vinyl ramped up. Yet another cause for delays is the recent demand for different colored vinyl, which slows down manufacturing as the stampers must be cleaned after use.
What’s interesting is that 2019 was a rather flat year for the industry where new pressing plants came on line and finally eased the capacity shortage. Thanks to several companies making new vinyl pressers using the latest technology, 12 new plants around the world came online in a period of 5 years or so. It’s fair to say that no one saw the increased demand coming, but if you’re going to have a problem, it’s a good one to have – unless you’re an artist.