What Really Killed the CD?

CD sales have been in free fall since the beginning of the century and for years, we were told that piracy was responsible.  Or was it?

Remember that CD technology hasn’t really changed all that much since it was created in the 1970s.  There were attempts to update it (Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio and DataPlay among them), but these new ideas were simply variation on a century-old theme: selling the public pieces of plastic.

The true reason the CD is dying is convenience.  Downloading a digital file–legal or otherwise–or streaming a digital track is far, far, far more convenient that dealing with pieces of plastic that you have to physically acquire. If you make something easy, the world will beat a path to your door.

Digital Music News posted this chart to illustrate the situation.

CD Sales

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

4 thoughts on “What Really Killed the CD?

  • August 22, 2014 at 9:17 am

    I still like owning a physical copy of the music that I really like. The audio quality is what the band and its producer(s) worked so hard on for days/weeks/months in the studio to record and perfect – their uncompressed works, the way THEY want you to hear it. True, digital files are convenient, but you’re missing out on your (favourite) artist’s best effort. So – Boo.
    Hiss, crackle and pop, too.

  • August 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Convenience is always good. But the the real problem that I see is that It seems that people value convenience over art these days.

    I believe in the art form of the album. That includes the full package of the sleeve, artwork, lyrics list, the way the cd or record fits in the package, the whole thing is a piece of art. You don’t get that with the digital illusion that is an mp3.

    Convenience is good, but it shouldn’t replace anything. I will always buy the art that is the album because I appreciate art. Mp3s sound like shit, but most people don’t even notice because it’s all they’ve ever known. I’m excited to see Pono and other high fidelity digital files become mainstream, for the sake of convenience.. but that doesn’t mean it should replace the real thing.

  • August 22, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I would also say that the industry helped kill the CD by not showing more creative constraint. Vinyl albums only held about 40 minutes of music which forced artists to be more selective in what they included. Plus a 15 or 20 minute side can make for a great listening experience. CDs allowed more songs and did away with sides. The album experience suffered as a result. Less is more, a lot of 90s eras artists would have created better album experiences if they have left more on the cutting room floor.


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