The Compact Disc Has Played Its Last Song
In many music circles, the death of the compact disc is seen as inevitable; the CD has run its course. The evolution of the music distribution format has led to the CD’s demise.
The first format was vinyl records. 8 track tape replaced vinyl as a portable alternative. Compact cassette tapes made portability even more convenient and killed the 8 track. CD’s came along, and soon the cassette was gone too, relegated to personal recording. The CD has been the dominant music format for almost 20 years. However, the very thing that made the CD so attractive is what eventually killed it. It was digital.
Last year, according to The Nielson Company, digital downloads surpassed physical purchases for the first time. Digital sales rose by 8.5 percent while CD sales fell by 5 percent. As a whole, the music industry saw a 6.9 percent increase in sales, but the shift in distribution is evident. Digital downloads are taking over.
Music publisher Alfa Matrix first brought the discussion to light in a Q&A in Matrix Revelations, the label’s in-house magazine.
“Normal CD’s will no longer be available because they don’t offer enough value,” wrote Managing Editor Bernard Van Isacker. “I predict that downloads will have replaced the CD album within the next 2 years.”
Wal-Mart (WMT), Best Buy (BBY) and Target (TGT) are the leaders in physical CD sales. A September 2010 Los Angeles Times article pointed out that the slow sales of CD’s has forced the large retailers to devote less and less floor space to music sales. CD’s can now be seen as a “loss leader” to get customers in the stores as a hope of selling them higher-priced items like televisions or computers.
Another way the CD is clinging to life is the exclusivity that Wal-Mart offers music by specific bands. The Eagles, AC/DC and Journey have all sold albums exclusively through Wal-Mart with much success. AC/DC sold over 1 million albums within the first 2 weeks of their 2008 release “Black Ice”. But not every artist has the luxury of such deals, and this is not enough to sustain a music format.
Side-Line magazine first reported the death of the CD in October 2011. At that time, none of the major record labels would speak publically about it. With declining sales, increasing costs and an infinitely more attractive alternative in downloads, it would only make sense for the time of the CD to fade into the sunset.
As a consumer it is easy to see why CD’s make no sense; they occupy a physical space; they need to be stored and cataloged; they are subject to damage. A scratch or exposure to the elements can render a CD useless. The CD player itself is bulky. No matter how small you can make a player, you can’t overcome the size of the disc. Finally, there is the environmental impact. According to the EPA, some 100,000 CD’s a year become outdated or useless and end up in landfills. The disc and the associated jewel cases are made of a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It is the least recyclable plastic.
For all those reasons, digital music makes sense. They occupy no space, can suffer no physical damage, the players are virtually microscopic and digital music has no environmental impact.
Much like vinyl LP’s today, which are enjoying a comeback, collectors will still seek out physical CD’s to add to their collections. Special editions and collector’s editions will be available just as LP’s are. But, for mass distribution, CD’s no longer make sense.