Why Is Japan Still Nuts for CDs?

In almost all the other top 10 music markets, the compact disc is dying. While CDs still sell by the millions every year, the sales trajectory resembles an extinction-level asteroid. Canada, the US, the UK, Germany and Australia have seen year-over-year declines in CD sales as digital files, streaming music services and even vinyl cannibalize the old ways of selling music. It’s happening everywhere–but not in Japan. CD sales remain comparatively robust in the land of the rising sun.

Why? Shouldn’t a country famed for its slavish devotion to high-tech have bailed on something as primitive as a CD long ago? The New York Times takes a look.

TOKYO — Around the world, the music business has shifted toward downloads and streaming. But in Japan, the compact disc is still king.

On a drizzly Sunday afternoon recently, Tower Records’ nine-level flagship store here was packed with customers like Kimiaki Koinuma. A 23-year-old engineer in a Dee Dee Ramone T-shirt, Mr. Koinuma said that, unlike most men his age around the world, he spends little time with digital services and prefers his music on disc.

“I buy around three CDs a month,” he said, showing off a haul of six new albums, including the Rolling Stones’ classic “Exile on Main St.” and an assortment of the latest Japanese pop hits.

Japan may be one of the world’s perennial early adopters of new technologies, but its continuing attachment to the CD puts it sharply at odds with the rest of the global music industry. While CD sales are falling worldwide, including in Japan, they still account for about 85 percent of sales here, compared with as little as 20 percent in some countries, like Sweden, where online streaming is dominant.

“Japan is utterly, totally unique,” said Lucian Grainge, the chairman of the Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music conglomerate.

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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.

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