The music industry has changed drastically over the past 30 years. The various music formats–from vinyl records, to 8-track, to cassette, to CD, and then to digital downloads–show a number of transitions over the past three decades. The wax and wane of these formats is shown in a rather interesting pie chart from Digital Music News. The animated pie chart maps each format between the years of 1980 to 2010 based on RIAA revenue figures. The chart is perhaps the best way possible to represent what’s going on in the music industry in 30 seconds or less.


As you can see, the LP/EP held almost 60 percent of sales in 1980 with cassette at 19 percent and 8-track at 14 percent. It wasn’t until 1983 when the cassette surpassed vinyl with a 48 percent share compared to viynl’s 45 percent. The CD made its first appearance in 1984 with 2.4 percent of revenue, while cassettes kept on the rise with 55 percent.

It wasn’t until 1990 that the CD (shown in red on the graph) came close to eclipsing sales of cassettes. CDs in 1990 held 45.8 percent of the revenue whereas cassettes had dropped to 46 percent. Of course, from there on out, CDs reigned supreme taking 49.1 percent of the market in 2010. The biggest chunk of the other near-51 percent came from downloads. As downloading music becomes more and more common, we’re sure 2011’s numbers will be even more drastic than that of 2010’s.

That said, you have to take this graph with a grain of salt since it does misrepresent the role of digital music. The graph is based on revenue and a large amount of music downloads are done illegally. BitTorrent sites are very popular, and it’s not unusual for people to just download an entire album without paying. Listeners claim they’re doing the “try before you buy” thing, but many never end up buying the album.

Though it may be a bit skewed, it’s definitely interesting to see the way CDs build up over the years and then begin to die back down starting in 2002 when digital music started becoming more popular. Also, as the 1980 to 2010 comparison pictured above shows, the LP/EP makes up almost 60 percent in 1980 but only a sliver at 1.3 percent in 2010. Is the CD destined for the same fate? Right now it’s still at 49 percent, but will the CD be at 1 percent within the next 10 or 20 years?

In a few years, we’ll most likely need a similar graph for publishing, since books, magazines, and newspapers are increasingly going online. With everyone carrying around Kindlesor iPads these days, people are reading their news on the go and consuming those bestsellers in purely digital form.