Music Industry

Another blow to the future of the compact disc came over the weekend

In the days before streaming took off, big box retailers like Walmart, Target and Best Buy were hugely important for the number of compact discs they sold for the record industry. Getting a release in, say, Walmart was considered to be so important that labels would even manufacture “clean” versions of albums just so the chain would stock it.

Target was another major mover of CDs. Just talk to Taylor Swift and Adele about how many copies the chain sold for them.

And then there was Best Buy. If you were in the store to buy some audio gear, it was convenient to buy your CDs at the time. Hundreds of square feet of store space were devoted to CDs. And once you did that, the low prices and big selection kept you coming back. As an occasional purchaser of CDs at Best Buy–and as a retailer that once happily stocked one of my Ongoing History of New Music compilation discs–I appreciated what these stores had to offer.

All this has changed dramatically in the age of streaming. The square footage Walmart gives over to CDs has shrunk dramatically. Target’s selection is a fraction of what it was, selling inventory on a consignment basis. It’s also mulling of getting out of that business altogether. How long will Walmart hang on?

And then there’s Best Buy. Back in February, the company announced that as of July 1, it would no longer sell CDs, period. None.

That day arrived over the weekend. Best Buy, a company that used to sell millions of CDs each year is forever out of that business.

Given that CD sales continue to crater–industry figures indicate a drop of more than 20% so far this year–and since streaming accounts for more than 60% if revenues, the CD’s time as the premiere recorded music format is up.

Not that it will disappear entirely, though. It’s headed to be a niche format, something purchased by those of us who want a physical copy of an artist’s work. They’ll also live on through things like box sets.

Others–i.e. people who want better fidelity than the what streaming offers or crappy compressed files–will move into the realm of High-Res Audio and the most esoteric region of MQA-encoded music.

Any thoughts about the continuing demise of the company disc?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38045 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “Another blow to the future of the compact disc came over the weekend

  • I’m okay with CDs going away — let’s face it, they always were an interim format — but I’m not okay with streaming being offered as the only alternative. I’m way more happy buying files.

  • Vinyls. I’m not sure how big they are nowadays, but because of their overall quality from what I’ve heard, that’s probably what’s going to end the CD business. People who want convenient storage for their music have had streaming services and Youtube to turn to, for years.


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