📜 Feature The resurgence of CDs? Maybe. Maybe not.

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Some pundits in the music press have taken note (or even celebrated) the resurgence of the CD. In 2021, the number of new CDs sold increased over 2020.

However, is it really a resurgence when the industry had major titles released (Adele, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, ABBA) that sold in large numbers in all formats? Nope. Even if 2021 bumped up slightly, the number sold is still a small fraction of what CDs sold in their peak years. And the overall rise in numbers sold only increased by 400,000 units between 2020 and 2021. In fact, Adele sold 378,000 copies of her latest album on CD in its first week of release, which accounts for almost all of this alleged "resurgence." I don't see any mass market retailers reintroducing CDs into the stores.

Rolling Stone, cluelessly out of touch as always, bragged about a CD revival back in January, while more tempered enthusiasm came by way of an article in Pitchfork. Clash perhaps had the most jaded piece of all, acknowledging the increase but saying it was overstated, which is what I tend to believe.

Yet despite those figures for new CDs, Discogs also reported increasing sales of CDs through ther site, by a leap of 37% in 2020 and 8.8% in 2021. (I should also point out that in the weirdness that was 2020, Discogs reported vinyl units jumped 41%.) Discogs does have sellers who offer current, sealed new product, but most of those sales would go to the large retailers like Amazon who sell it at a lower price, often with free shipping.

What gives?

I believe the truth is somewhere in between. There are three directions that CD sales have split into.

First, for the mass market, who has moved primarily to streaming and downloads, the CD is pretty much a dead item. Those who only stream music are renting the music on a month-by-month basis, where downloaders are paying to support the artist. There are still some out there who own CD players and use them (evidenced by the small spike in CD sales for blockbuster titles in 2021) but by and large, the mainstream has moved on to the next popular format. The mass market is where CD lost its footing as a dominant format.

Second, for indie artists, CDs remain one of the best ways to get music to listeners cheaply--CDs are inexpensive to manufacturer. Many (or perhaps most) of them offer downloads, but many supporters of indie musicians and bands will purchase the physical CD to support the artist. The CDs are also great giveaways at live gigs--what better souvenir than to take home an artist's latest recording?

Third, the largest market I see for CDs is hinted at through the sales numbers offered by Discogs--the collector market. In 2020, the world shut down. A CD or LP is a cheap form of entertainment that can be enjoyed in our own homes. Even more importantly, bargain hunters are finding dirt cheap CDs at thrift stores, garage sales, even online in lots on auction sites like eBay--it is a fast and inexpensive way to either build a collection or experiment with music they have never heard before, especially younger buyers who have little disposable income. (At my nearest used music store, for instance, they often sell CDs in their sidewalk sale for 25 or 50 cents each. $5 would buy them maybe 10-20 new CDs to listen to.)

There are also collectors who (like many of us here at A&M Corner) are looking for rarer albums whether they are on CD or vinyl and, with stay-at-home orders in place, we had more time to hunt down and enjoy playing long sought after items for our collections. That form of collecting will always exist, just as it has for LPs for several decades now, and it will remain strong because just like with LPs, there are CDs that were available only in limited runs, some even rarer since they were released in countries other than our own.

To sum it up, our CDs are just like our records--we bought them, we own them, and nobody is coming to take them away from us. What overall sales trends reflect about the mass market do not reflect what we already own, or what we place on our wishlists. Sure, future reissues might have to join our collections as downloads rather than as physical products, but that is progress, and the lower cost for the label (no physical product to manufacture, ship, promote, and stock inventory for) means that the potential for an increase in lesser-known releases will be made available to us in the future. This has been happening already for a while. But the collector market for music already released will always remain strong as long as CDs keep trading hands between buyers and sellers. Just as it has for any other physical format over time. CDs are just settling into their new normal as a format the masses have moved on from, leaving a thriving collector market behind where we get to enjoy the riches.

What was your most recent CD purchase? Are you into new releases, or more into reissues or used collectible titles? Let us know in the comments below.
 

GDBY2LV

Well-Known Member
I bought the new Spencer Day, Broadway By Day and 2 copies of the new Michael Buble’ Higher CDs last week. One is a gift. Amazon sends a free download of most commercial releases with cd purchase as a bonus. It’s a win-win for me. No need to rip them unless I want to make a compilation on my computer. I like to have the physical disc. The liner notes when possible, writing and producer credits. Who played on the album, etc. Still old school here, a hard habit to break since selling music was my income and passion, hobby, for most of my younger adult life from 1977-2004. I still blame K&R.
 

Harry

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I always wonder just how many of the big 80s/90s/early 2000s CD buyers and their CDs are still out there. Like you said, we all bought the CDs and no-one is knocking at the door to take them away. Now, take a look at the state of the music industry. I'd say that the vast number of those of us with our large CD collections are not the target audience for most music released in the "files/downloading/streaming" era. While we might like a one-off record from The Weeknd or Dua Lipa, we're not by and large waiting for "drop day" for their latest singles or albums.

What I'm getting at is that maybe the CD era mostly satisfied its main audience with most of the classic albums getting releases and re-releases. Most typical music buyers will get to a saturation point and stop buying music. Some filled their wishes with all that's out there of interest, some are just not all that interested and are happy coming home to the latest episode of THE MASKED SINGER on TV.

The younger audience still likes its music, though I have to wonder how their future "nostalgia" era will fare. They won't have physical releases to chase after, and the melodic structure of today's pop music isn't exactly suitable for some future edition of Musak.

I was recently looking at a radio forum thread on why Classic Rock continues to do well, while standard Oldies formats have long died off. For example, it's easy to find your classic rock station still playing Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" or Supertramp's "Bloody Well Right" from 1974, along with all of the other big rock hits of that year. But try to find a station playing "Seasons In The Sun" by Terry Jacks or "Sunshine On My Shoulders" by John Denver". Those were actually bigger hits than those classic rock tunes, but they're never played by anyone any more.

It turns out that the younger audience of today actually like those old classic rock tunes. Classic Rock formatted stations do well in those younger demographics, which is why the format continues. I'm sure that those younger listeners are also streaming some of these old classic tunes on their streaming devices.

I don't know what the future of CDs or music will be. I've reached the age I am now, and only really care about my own listening habits and preferences. I can envision a future where the current crop of younger vinyl obsessives will collect what they want, spin records on their record players, and someday be a bit dismayed that their Taylor Swift pink vinyl copy of FOLKLORE has a big scratch on side one. Will they seek out a CD? A stream? Download some files to their phone/device? Pluck the album out of the air with the chip in their head? Who knows. All I'm pretty certain of, is that the pink vinyl WILL get a scratch on side one.

:)
 
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rockdoctor

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In this area, most of the radio stations for me are boring. We have a top 40 station but you will hear many of the same songs several times in one day. There is an R&B station but they play the same songs day in and day out. There are other stations along the same line. We have one Classic Rock but even their playlist is very repetitious.
One station has the best variety as they play mostly 80's up but do dip back to the late 50's and 60's now and then. The public radio now has a station called The Time Machine. Great 50's to about 1980 songs and Abbott and Costello on Sunday nights. No commercials to boot! That is what I listen to at home most of the time if my turntable is not on.
I do not do downloads as I like to have the LP or CD on hand to read notes, see musician lists and lyrics. I have not bought any CD's lately and when I do, it is by an artist that I have liked for a very long time. I have not bought any CD by any artists that have come on the scene after 1988. I just don't care enough for them to but their material. For some, I may but a Greatest Hits set but that is all.
 
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Mike Blakesley

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For me, music has sort of divided itself into various categories. What I do about new music, upon finding out about it, depends on where they fall in this list.

- Artists I really like and will buy their new thing on CD if they release it
- Artists I like, and will check out their newest work on streaming and make a CD of it to keep if I like it
- Artists I like, but their new work isn't really killer, so I just listen on streaming
- New stuff I discover and eventually assign to one of the above categories
 

Harry

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I only mentioned radio to point out how younger people can still latch onto classic rock, which reveals that many in that age group have shunned the music of their own era.
 

Rudy

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I only mentioned radio to point out how younger people can still latch onto classic rock, which reveals that many in that age group have shunned the music of their own era.
My youngest is an example of that--she doesn't like the boredom and repetition of our classic rock station in town, but she goes after songs and artists that are not as overplayed from that same era. That's not all she listens to, but she'll be the first to remove herself as far as possible from anything by Bon Jovi or Journey (which, perhaps coincidentally or not, were her mother's two favorite bands 😁). She pretty much can't stand anything that is current or Top 40. And I remember even a dozen years ago, she asked me to load some music on her MP3 player and I never heard of any of it.

She's a streaming user, but only because she doesn't have a system to play anything back on, and no room to put one until she gets out on her own in a year or two. But I have a feeling once I can get her set up with the basics, she'll be out scouring the stores like I used to do.
 

Rudy

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For me, music has sort of divided itself into various categories. What I do about new music, upon finding out about it, depends on where they fall in this list.

- Artists I really like and will buy their new thing on CD if they release it
- Artists I like, and will check out their newest work on streaming and make a CD of it to keep if I like it
- Artists I like, but their new work isn't really killer, so I just listen on streaming
- New stuff I discover and eventually assign to one of the above categories

I think you broke it down similarly to how I do things lately, except I buy downloads rather than CDs, largely because CDs can't hold the resolution of the digital files I download (in other words, most new releases and reissues I buy are higher than CD's 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution, as that is how the labels are releasing downloads these days). Granted, though, I'm set up to play music that way, so it's a simple process. Many downloads come with PDF files that I can open with a single click in Roon Player, so I'm not missing out on liner notes I rarely read anyway. The concept is about the same as your list, though:
  • Artists I follow closely, I'll often buy the vinyl if it is somewhat collectible or noteworty (extra tracks, colored vinyl, high quality pressing, etc.). If I don't buy the vinyl, I buy the download. Either way, the artist has my support.
  • I audition everything else via streaming in Qobuz. If I end up liking it, I'll buy the download.
  • If I stream it and don't care for it, I do the same thing--I'll stream it once or twice and probably never touch it again, or stream just that one track I want to hear once a year. And if I quit my streaming subscription, I could always purchase just the one track...but I wouldn't be heartbroken to never hear it again.
  • New discoveries (whether they are new releases, or reissues of albums that were released in years or decades past that are new to me) end up in the above categories.
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
The CD is alive and well in Japan and the EU. Year 2021 was my biggest year to date for new CD purchases. Approximately 80 "classical" CDs -- and all from a UK outfit and all were made in the EU and currently available (i.e. none were OOP or cut outs). Otherwise, I'm continually purchasing "pop" on Discogs; most of these are used; the new CDs are NOS; however, there are a few, mostly from Japan, that are new issues.
 

Bobberman

Well-Known Member
The last 2 CD s I bought were Herb Alpert's latest and Brian Wilson's solo piano recording At my piano most of my music purchases have been downloads as they are titles I either missed the first time and not available in physical formats anymore along with the fact I pretty much don't have any more storage space for physical media now thankfully my computer still has over 500 GB of available space but I don't want to completely fill that space up as it could cause performance issues
 

Harry

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My most recent CD purchases:

New discs:
Lani Hall's latest, though it's a pre-order and not here yet
Richard Carpenter's Piano Songbook
ABBA's VOYAGE
Paul McCartney III
Taylor Swift's folklore and Evermore

Older and catalog titles new in the recent year or so:
Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians ULTIMATE COLLECTION
A&M SOMETHING SPECIAL
A&M MORE SOMETHING SPECIAL
Quincy Jones YOU'VE GOT IT REAL BAD
Paul McCartney VENUS & MARS remaster
Dean Martin GREATEST HITS
THE BEST OF SERGIO MENDES (Decca EU 2009)
Beatles ABBEY ROAD (2019 remixed/remastered)
America ORIGINAL ALBUM SERIES (five CDs)

Odd and eclectic selections for sure, reflecting my eclectic tastes.
 

Harry

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You've Got It Bad, Girl. 😁 It's a good, low-key album and I was listening to it the other night.
Heh. I was reading the spine of the A&M/Verve CD, Small black print on a red background.

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Rudy

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Now that I think of it, the real reason CDs became extinct is because all of us are getting old and can't read the booklets anymore! 😁
 

Harry

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Now that I think of it, the real reason CDs became extinct is because all of us are getting old and can't read the booklets anymore! 😁
I have to take my glasses off to read them!
 

Rudy

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I would need my readers and a magnifying glass for an end result of making them only slightly less blurry! 😁 A lot of times, the poor art decisions for the booklet make it worse. I remember Dire Straits Brothers in Arms having pink text on a blue background, something I could barely read even when my eyesight was still 20/20! I've even complained to a software company about text that was unnecessarily too small, but one voice out of hundreds of thousands means nothing...

That is one bonus about reading booklets via a PDF--I can zoom in as much as needed.
 

Rudy

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I would consider myself a collector of previously released material. If I were to buy a CD today, it would probably be an album of previously released material from the past – probably distant past – or a new release of interest that was made available on CD, such as Herb Alpert's recent Catch The Wind album.
While I buy downloads or vinyl vs. CDs, I am of a similar mindset. I am discovering so much previously recorded music from years or decades past that my purchases of current new releases are almost non-existent. For a lot of it, economics come into play. If I can buy a $9 download vs. an out of print import CD for $60, you can guess which way I'll go. Vinyl for albums never released digitally can be priced just about anywhere--I've found sealed rarities for $5 or as much as $25 in recent years. I still have a cassette deck and a reel deck for those rare instances I cannot find a recording any other way.

It's all good, though! Whichever way I can get the music doesn't really matter--being able to experience the music in any format is what counts for me. 👍
 
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