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Music Industry

Something weird is happening with compact discs. They’re selling like crazy again!

When I opened the weekly report from Luminate, the company that keeps track of the recorded music industry, I thought there was a glaring error. But there it was on the screen: Canadian CD sales were up this week. And not by just a little. Not 5 or 10 or ever 20 percent. Compact disc sales rocketed up in one week by an unbelievable 87 percent.

I rubbed my eyes and checked the numbers again. Nope. I read that right. An 86.6% increase in the number of CDs sold in Canada over the last seven days. What’s going on?

Better look for backup, I thought. Maybe this is some kind of weird statistical glitch.

I checked the US numbers and found that America is also seeing a CD renaissance. In 2021, compact disc sales were 47.7% higher than they were in 2020. That was the first time in two decades that CDs saw a year-over-year increase in sales. What’s going on? (And no, we can’t credit Kate Bush for all this.)

The answer may lay in the ongoing vinyl shortage, supply chain issues, and the bottlenecks at record pressing plants.

If you’ve been to a record store lately, you’ll know that the prices for LPs are outrageous. Earlier this year, I ran across a copy of the Tragically Hip’s Music At Work album selling for $70. Insane. The same album could be purchased on CD for less than $20. If you have to own a physical version of an album right now, which format are you going to pick? I thought so.

Digging a little deeper, I see that it’s possible to order a run of 100 CDs in full-colour jackets for anywhere from $2-5 per disc. Compare that to the $20-25 (and often much more) it costs to order vinyl in that same quantity. Yes, production costs drop as your order gets bigger, but there’s no way that the cost of producing a vinyl record will ever become as cheap as producing a CD.

Keep in mind, too, that we’re only seeing figures for CDs sold at stores using the SoundScan system. Any numbers do not include used discs or those people will buy at the merch table after a show.

Anyone else have any other theories as to why CD sales are heading up so fast?

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 38165 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

9 thoughts on “Something weird is happening with compact discs. They’re selling like crazy again!

  • Maybe people are realizing that they want to own forever some music, and not be at the whim of a streaming service perhaps taking them away, or not being available.

  • Because they’re better?

  • I have been buying more CDs again lately, although never really stopped. Since the digital rise ive been buying 2 or 3 a year, but have bought 10 in the last 2ish months. The main reason is that I never cared for streaming music and want to physically own the album of a artist I actually like. Buying a purly Digital copy/download has never sat right with me. I wonder how many downloads ive purchased that ive lost because one computer fried and then one was stolen or because i stopped using their product (like ipod and itunes)

    The CD is the most convenient way and cost effective way to have a physical copy of the music I want to buy. I have multiple devices already that can play them at home and car, I can rip them to my cell to play in my car too or while I’m out and about and not worry bout going through data. and I still have my collection of cds from before digital took off so i can just grow that, My 20 year old Cds play just fine still. Plus I like seeing them on my shelves.

    It’s very much the same kind of reasons as to why myself and many others still buy books and not just use a eReader.

  • Tired of streaming services deciding what I want to hear. I’ll pick my own daisies, thank you.

  • The idea that you can stream anything at anytime sounds great at first but I realize I spend more time searching than actually listening. Same with Netflix, Amazon, etc. Instead of that I can look over my shelf of vinyl and CD books with a more limited selection and get more enjoyment. Not to mention, when I really like a band, I feel better about supporting them by buying rather than just clicking something.

    The above is more personal – the reason I believe CDs are going up in sales right now has to be price of vinyl. A few years ago I would buy most new releases on vinyl, but now with costs I maybe buy 4 – 5 per year?

  • I can only say that I *wish* people were smart enough to think that their streaming services are not forever but I doubt it. That segment of the population haven’t, and probably won’t, get any smarter any time soon. It’s not in their world view. Yes, I’m being a judgy judger.

    I think the people that are buying cds are the people that *were* paying those stupidly astronomical prices for new vinyl and then realized that ‘oh yeah, now that I have to pay six bucks a gallon for gas..oh and hmmm, a bag of chips now cost five dollars …oh and wait, it’s now costing me x dollars to buy this staple… and so on and so on..’ are coming to their senses and cutting costs. New CDs are absurdly cheap right now, by and large, depending upon where you choose to buy them.

    Normal, day to day life, without frills is expensive right now. When you add on (our) music and concert expenses well…if you’re buying new, you are talking a lot of money. Merch is overpriced, concerts are *beyond* overpriced and I’m not including what I already expected to pay extra for; to make up for ‘making up for the last two years’ because we’re *way* past that.

  • Cds were a shot of fresh air when they arrived but I spent years denying it. At last the clicks, pops and roar were gone and I didn’t have to be up and down flipping. Of course the care put into production was as important as it was with vinyl. The quality of gear either is played with remains vital. Music is King, no matter the source used. If vinyl can come back, so can cds. Just enjoy it all! I use online sources to investigate artists and pressings. Taken as a whole music lovers have never had so much. Enjoy! Oh, an after thought but important, artist’s incomes have shrivelled with streaming unless they are super popular, physical media helps with that. I get the idea that the huge streamers are not so nice to deal with as an artist.

  • Two thoughts:

    Prior to the last couple of COVID years, people were able to move themselves into larger, more stable home living situations. And during the height of COVID, many focused on making the home situation better for themselves – renovations, upgrades, etc. Prior to that, many were still coping with the after-effects of the 2008 economic downturn. That was about living small and unencumbered, often back with parents or renting very small apartments. Music on your phone was almost necessary then, and vinyl LPs were hardly in vogue. CDs were taking up space and “a big pain if I need to move.” But COVID caused people not only to NOT move, but to improve living conditions. Therefore, having a bigger stereo system aside from a streaming setup just made more sense now. CDs fit into this picture.

    Two: Streaming overload. Subscribe to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime AND Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix, etc? Something’s gotta give, and maybe the idea of leasing your favorite albums versus actually owning the CDs is starting to sound like a wasteful proposition.

  • I’ve said it for years. Enjoy streaming, but don’t rely on an online world! I’ve been buying vinyl. Bluray, UHD bluray like crazy the last few years. Not only is the quality top notch with legit equipment (something people have forgotten about negate of the trash basic players out there), but I also don’t have to worry about my purchases disappearing on me at the drop of a hat because of contact disputes.

    Long love physical media!


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