Music

Taylor Swift’s First-Week Vinyl Sales Through the Years: From Nothing to Historic

This week, Taylor Swift made history in more ways than one with the release of her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department. But perhaps the most mind-boggling of all the records she set was the first-week vinyl sales for the album, which came in at 859,000 — by far the largest sales week for a vinyl album in the modern era, blowing past the second-largest week by more than 160,000 units.

Related

That second-largest week, by the way? The debut frame of her last release, 1989 (Taylor’s Version), which sold 693,000 vinyl copies in the week ending Nov. 2, 2023. In fact, Swift has the top four biggest vinyl sales weeks in history — all of which have come in the past 18 months — and six of the top eight, reflecting not just the industry-wide popularity boom for the format, but her own evolving strategy and emphasis on physical media and fan-focused collectibles.

For Tortured Poets, Swift released six different vinyl variations (in addition to nine CD versions and four cassette versions), four of which were available widely and two of which were exclusives, one signed iteration through her own web store and one through Target. Of the four widely available, each included a different bonus track, and each have individually sold enough copies to top the vinyl sales charts for the week: the Manuscript edition (342,000); the Bolter edition (85,000); the Black Dog edition (79,000); and the Albatross edition (62,000).

That’s a continuation of the strategy she’s deployed in force since her, for lack of a better phrase, pandemic albums, Folklore and Evermore. And it’s a shining success story for how artists have been capitalizing on the resurrection of vinyl as not just physical art piece but also merch item, as the format has continued to surge for 18 years in a row, having hit 43.2 million U.S. sales in 2023, amounting to $1.35 billion in revenue, according to the RIAA.

Swift’s own career, in terms of album output, has grown along with that trend. Her self-titled debut album was released 18 years ago, in October 2006, a year when vinyl revenue sales in the U.S. were a mere $23.7 million. At that point, vinyl was such a niche market (and Swift was such a new artist) that for Taylor Swift and her second album, Fearless, Swift didn’t even release vinyl editions until May 2016, when they sold 500 copies and 1,000 copies, respectively, in their first week of availability. By the time of 2010’s Speak Now, Swift’s star power was much more formidable, but vinyl was still pretty niche; all vinyl sales in the U.S. that year accumulated $124.2 million, according to the RIAA, and Speak Now moved 500 copies in its first week.

Red, in 2012, was a true breakthrough moment for Swift in terms of her pop career, and the vinyl business had itself added nearly $100 million in value in just two years, to $213.3 million; Red sold 1,000 copies in the first week it came out in the format. Two years later, when she released 1989, the vinyl industry had added another $100 million per year, and the standard vinyl moved 11,000 copies in its first week of availability. For 2017’s Reputation, a slightly delayed street date release led to a 9,000 sale week in what was technically its second week of availability, with Swift still sticking to the standard vinyl option.

Related

It was for Lover that Swift’s strategy first began to change, as she began experimenting with vinyl offerings beyond the standard black record, and the numbers began to really jump. When the album came out on the format in November 2019, it was as a colored double-vinyl, sold exclusively at Target, which helped boost that first-week number to 18,000 copies — at the time, the largest vinyl sales week by a woman since Adele’s 25 during Christmas week 2015 (reflected on the Jan. 9, 2016, chart). By 2019, vinyl sales in the U.S. had reach the half-billion-dollar mark — and the real jump for the format was on the horizon.

The figures for Folklore — 9,000 copies week one — at first may seem like a regression. But the pandemic brought about two competing trends: both an aggressive jump in the popularity of vinyl, and vast, industry-wide supply-chain issues related to the production of it. Since Folklore was a surprise release on July 24, 2020, the vinyl was delayed until November; but Swift sold digital-physical bundles when the album was first released, meaning that the digital sale was counted during the July release week, but when the vinyl finally shipped in November — the first-week availability tracked here — the sales were not counted as vinyl, as they had already been counted as digital. (The chart rules have since changed so they are no longer counted together.) So while Folklore’s first week as a wide release had 615,000 album sales, there’s no clear way of delineating how many of those sales included vinyl copies; and the first-week figure in November, of 9,000 copies, represents the number purchased during that week, when many of Swift’s die-hard fans were receiving the album, though it was not tracked that way.

Nonetheless, Folklore was the first Swift album to really lean in to the vinyl-as-collectible trend, with seven alternate covers in addition to the standard black pressing available. Evermore would follow suit, with another pandemic-related delay helping its first week: The album was released in December 2020, but the vinyl came out in May 2021, allowing for five months of banked pre-orders, and with a collectible tweak: It was available in two green-colored variants and a red-colored Target exclusive, resulting in a then-record 102,000 vinyl sales in its first week of availability.

Related

What followed was the furious slate of re-releases of her older albums, as well as her own new releases, many of which followed similar strategies — and led to truly eye-popping, record-breaking numbers. Fearless (Taylor’s Version), also with a delayed physical release, came with two vinyl versions, a gold variant and a red Target exclusive, leading to a 67,000-copy first week; Red (Taylor’s Version) followed shortly after with two versions, both of which were four-LP sets that sold for $49.99 and led to a 114,000-sale first week, re-setting her own record.

By the time Midnights rolled around a year later, Swift’s playbook was complete: multiple covers, multiple colored vinyl variants and multiple vinyl editions of each album. Midnights had four variant editions sold widely, as well as another as a Target exclusive, while each of the wide releases were also available as signed copies. The result: 575,000 LPs sold in a week. Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), the following July, had three colored variants, one of which was a Target exclusive; 268,000 vinyl sales later, it also entered the pantheon. And 1989 (Taylor's Version) completed the pre-Tortured Poets set: five color variants, one a Target exclusive with an extra bonus track, and 693,000 LPs sold in its first week.

Since the pandemic year of 2020, vinyl sales in the U.S. ballooned from $820 million to the 2023 peak of $1.35 billion in revenue. And while that’s an industry-wide trend, Swift’s strategies, and successes, have surely had plenty to do with it, too.

Powered by Billboard.

Related Articles

Back to top button