young man sorting through vinyl records in a store

Can You Make a Profit Selling Vinyl and CDs?

Twitter
Visit Us
YouTube
Instagram
RSS
LinkedIn
Share

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

I want to talk about what price you can sell a CD or vinyl record for these days and whether you can actually make money selling physical media. Artists ask me about this a lot, particularly about vinyl, since the investment in manufacturing a vinyl record is more substantial.

Manufacturing costs

In the quantities most commonly ordered by independent artists, manufacturing CDs costs between $1 to maybe $2.50 apiece. Vinyl, because it’s a much slower, less efficient process to manufacture, costs more. An entry-level vinyl order of 100 records can cost $10 to $15 per unit, and the price goes down pretty quickly as your order size goes up, to where you’re spending $7 or even $5 per record at quantities of 300 or 500.

Of course, many artists and labels want extras with vinyl, including special vinyl colors and effects, gate-fold jackets, and more, which will drive the unit price up.

But, what about selling prices? How much will a fan today pay for a CD or vinyl record? Turns out there’s a pretty wide range of prices that physical media is sold for.

CD sale prices

There are two main areas where CDs and vinyl are sold: at concerts and through retail, and retail can be in brick-and-mortar indie record stores or online on an artist’s Bandcamp page or website, or on Amazon.

What prices are we seeing there? Well, at concerts, the most common price that small independent artists sell their CDs for seems to be $10. It’s a price that’s easy on the wallet and makes a CD a great value, while still generating a whopping 80 percent profit margin for the artist.

More established artists will sell CDs at concerts for $15, and I’ve seen some major artists playing large venues selling CDs for $20, even $25. It all depends on the artist and the label — and the product. A limited-edition run can sell for a higher price. If you, the artist, sit at the merch booth and autograph the CDs, you can get a higher price, and sometimes it’s just a matter of being courageous enough to put a $15 price tag on your CDs instead of $10 and see if people buy it.

My opinion for most artists is, you don’t need to sell a CD for $10 — a $12–$15 price point is something fans will happily pay.

What about in stores? There we see CD prices generally clustered around the $15 price point, ranging from $12–18, and occasionally at $20. So, what about vinyl?

Vinyl sale prices

Over the past couple of years, we have seen major inflation in vinyl record pricing at retail. Prices in stores have smashed through the $30 barrier and sometimes even the $40 barrier. This may have had a bit of an effect of dampening vinyl demand — it just got too expensive for some fans, even though vinyl sales volumes generally continued to rise in 2023.

At concerts, I’m seeing indie bands starting at $20 a record, which is an amazing deal, and allows an artist to still make 40, 50, sometimes 60 percent margins, depending on what they paid for their record. $20 to $25 is a common entry-level price range, though I regularly see vinyl sold for $30 or even $35 at concerts.

These ranges are not too different from what is happening at retail; vinyl record prices start around $27 per record and up, nowadays going well into the mid to upper $30s, and occasionally, as I mentioned, I see vinyl priced at $40 or more.

Maximize your audience and earnings with our distribution services

Factors that affect vinyl prices

There are many factors that go into setting the price. Is it a limited run? Who is the artist? What is the demand for the album? Is there something special about it — like colored vinyl? And one thing that drives up vinyl prices is this: most albums that are released today don’t fit on one record.

To press a good-sounding record, you can only fit about 45 — maybe 48 — minutes of music on it. Many albums today are longer than that, so when these albums get pressed on vinyl, it means pressing two records, which basically doubles the manufacturing cost. That higher cost will lead to a higher selling price of $35, $40, or sometimes even more.

Let’s break down the numbers

So, can an artist make money selling physical media? Absolutely! I think the numbers I just mentioned prove it. If you make a 100 CDs for $200 and you sell them for $10 apiece, you only need to sell 20 CDs to get your $200 manufacturing cost back. Every CD you sell after that is 100 percent profit! If you sell your CDs for $15 apiece, you only need to sell 14 to cover your manufacturing cost. Pretty great, right?

If you sell those 100 CDs, you’d have made $1,500 in sales, and at $200 to manufacture, that’s a $1,300 profit.

What about vinyl? Well, if you make 100 records for $1,300 and you sell them for $25 apiece, you need to sell 52 records — about half — to cover your manufacturing cost. If you sell them for the bargain price of $20, you’ need to sell 65 records. The thing is, fans love vinyl and will pay $25 for a record. That’s a good deal, today.

Now, will you sell 52 records at your your next concert? Maybe not, but over the next few months, between concert sales and sales off your website and Bandcamp page, that should be doable if you have any kind of fan base at all. So, in summary, what did you just hear?

Let’s review the numbers

The most common price range for selling CDs is $10–$15, with higher prices possible depending on who you are and what you offer to make those discs premium, and the margins are a huge 80 percent or more, making CDs easily profitable for artists.

Vinyl records, because they’re more expensive to manufacture, sell for between $20–$35 with $25–$30 being the sweet spot. Profit margins there are 40–60 percent, and since fans go crazy over vinyl at shows and in stores, it shouldn’t be too hard to move those units if you’re an active artist.

Now, before you leave a comment telling me that my cost calculations did not include the cost of recording: yes, you’re 100 percent right. I’m assuming you’re recording that album regardless, to put it up on streaming platforms — where the music listeners are.

If you’re a working artist, you need to put music out for the fans, and we all know that streaming royalties are so tiny, they don’t allow you to pay any bills, which is why, even in 2024, those classic physical formats of vinyl and CD remain one of the best ways for an artist artist to monetize their music.

And, of course, if you’re looking to release your album on CD or vinyl, your friends at Disc Makers, are happy to help!

Build your own home recording studio

Tony van Veen in the Disc Makers lobby

About Tony van Veen

Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.

One thought on “Can You Make a Profit Selling Vinyl and CDs?

  1. Hey Tony. My main contact at DiscMakers is Jeff. Here are one
    or two issues or problems I’ve encountered in music sales.

    CD sales have been the slowest moving product for me. Not long ago, I got an email from DM asking for a reorder, when I’ve still got 75 or more out of 100 still left, & that includes a dozen or so copies I’ve given away free. I also ordered Flash USB Drives & also have most of those left unsold.

    I’m tempted to STOP posting songs & albums to Streaming platforms & just sell Downloads & CD’s. Most people are suggesting to stream & asking for streaming links. But as you said, the return on one’s money is not found there, unless you’re Taylor Swift with her “rabid” fanbase.

    This whole scenario leaves me confused & frustrated, & seems to drain all of the joy & enthusiasm out of writing, performing & recording music.

    I’m not really expecting any answers. Just venting a bit here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *