There’s been a lot of talk about how the CD is dead, killed by the relentless uptick in streaming. Yes, the CD is in decline, but it’s not quite dead yet.
At first glance, things do look bad.
Extrapolating sales through 2018, less than 9 million discs will be sold in Canada and fewer than 80 million in the US. (The US figure represents a 90% drop since 2001.) Chains continue to close (Canada’s Sunrise Records being the exception) and big box stores like Best Buy and Target are either getting out of the business of selling CDs entirely or cutting back on inventory.
However, just like other music storage formats of the past (except for perhaps the 8-track), the CD will find its niche in the music ecosystem. Salon takes a look at how things are going.
[T]hese doom-and-gloom proclamations can feel like self-fulfilling prophecies. Discussions about how the CD is dying pop up on a regular basis in a way similar to how all those articles about rock ‘n’ roll’s death remain popular. Indeed, many stories act as though CDs are already extinct. “If the majors don’t play ball and give in to the new sale terms, it could considerably hasten the phase down of the CD format,” Billboard said of Target’s ultimatum, while a USA Today headline on the Best Buy move reads, “Music CDs fading fast as Best Buy may hit ‘eject’ button.” It’s hard not to think sometimes that people actually want CDs to die out.
Technology trends aren’t helping this suspicion. Good luck finding a laptop with a built-in CD drive. Cars are also trending in that direction. For example, the 2018 Ford EcoSport doesn’t have a CD player, only streaming capabilities. “Streaming is the fastest growing source of music and video content and particularly with younger consumers, who we’ve found time and time again prefer streaming and subscription services over traditional forms like CDs,” Michael O’Brien, the SUV group marketing manager for Ford, told NPR in 2017.
Of course, the idea that technology and marketing affect how we listen to music is hardly new. Formats have cycled in and out of popularity with the introduction of cool accessories — the Walkman, boom boxes, the Discman, iPod. For its part, the compact disc’s futuristic sheen was what originally bolstered its cachet in the ’80s. Still, the CD market also came with its own sneaky pressure — namely, that music fans were encouraged to re-buy albums they already owned on LP or cassette, due to the supposedly better-quality sound.