Music Industry

Here’s an analysis of the future of the CD

CD sales are down over 20% from this time year. Yes, it looks like a death spiral, but at some point, CDs will find a sales equilibrium. While its days as the dominant music format are numbered (if not already over), the compact disc won’t go away entirely. There are too many billions of discs and players out there. Instead, it will become a niche format in a world dominated by streaming–just like vinyl.

Billboard has this analysis.

The mid-year installment of the RIAA’s outlook on how the U.S. music industry is performing created quite a stir when it counted sales of compact discs in the first half of 2018 at 18.6 million, worth $245.9 million. That number, compared to the first six months of 2017, translates to a 46.9 percent drop on a unit basis and a 41.5 percent drop on a dollar basis, from 35 million units and $420 million.

Some publications, including Rolling Stone and a story in Billboard, noted that the CD decline was much larger than the decline in digital download albums, which, according to the RIAA, dropped 26.4 percent both on a unit basis (35.8 million last year to 26.3 million this year) and dollar amount ($360.4 million last year to $265.2 million this year).

The key word missing from the first sentence of this story, though, is shipments. The RIAA counts shipments, not sales — and that’s where the observation that the CD is declining faster than downloads falls short of being entirely accurate.

A look at actual sales from Nielsen Music tells a different story. Nielsen’s mid-year numbers show that for the week ending June 29, 2018, CD sales totaled 34.8 million, or nearly twice as many as what the RIAA says. Further, that number is down 19.7 percent year over year — not the 47.4 percent in shipments, as tracked by the RIAA — as sales in the previous year’s six month period totaled 43.4 million. Meanwhile, download albums are counted at 28.6 million, down from 36.3 million, a slightly larger 21.4 percent drop than the CD, with track sales down even further, according to Nielsen Music.

It’s clear the CD is definitely on its way to being a niche business like vinyl, which was tracked at 8.1 million units by the RIAA. But the CD market, despite its declines, is still four times larger than vinyl in the U.S. at this point.

Keep reading. If you follow the business side of music, this is fascinating stuff.

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 38556 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “Here’s an analysis of the future of the CD

  • Someone explain to me how vinyl (despite has been rising for 10 years) is considered alive and well despite only sells about 1/5 of CD at it lowest ??

    Most people who buys vinyl are simply re buying old albums which they already had on cd.

    • Yes, but the rate at which people are buying vinyl is more than 3 x the rate at which CD sales are declining. Vinyl is now into its 11th year of double-digit growth. It’s the only physical medium that’s growing.


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