An Explosion In Vinyl Demand (A Real Pandemic)

The resurgence in vinyl’s popularity among music industry enthusiasts is old news by this point, however new data shows that the demand has become so great, that manufacturing will likely have a difficult time keeping up.

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, forecasts show 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.

With no sign of vinyl sales slowing, we’re running into supply and production issues. The result could be long delays for releases and inevitably higher prices.

Just as the vinyl industry found a way to recover from the Apollo Transco fire in February 2020 which destroyed one of only two lacquer master factories in the world (not to mention all the COVID protocols that have slowed things down in pressing plants) comes news that demand for new records is outstripping capacity.

The global capacity for manufacturing vinyl is at around 160 million units a year. However, estimates are that could reach 320 million or even 400 million very, very soon. If those orders can’t be filled, that could mean leaving over a billion dollars on the table.

Eighteen months ago, we could expect to have vinyl  in two or three months. But now the average order has jumped from 3,700 copies to 7,000, the wait can stretch to a full year–or even longer, not that we are pressing up 3,700 of anything. 

What’s the reason for this? Demand, obviously. And we have to look at retailers like Walmart and Target, which have really jumped on the vinyl bandwagon.

Naturally, the laws of supply and demand dictate that when something like this happens, prices go up. The average price of an album in the US had held steady at $23 for about ten years. The current average price is now $32.

Another major reason for delays 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.  

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