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We need to talk about how much longer the compact disc will survive. Is the end near?

[This was my weekly column for – AC]

When Luminate, the company that monitors music sales and streaming consumption, released its weekly numbers last week, I sighed over the year-to-date sales of compact discs. For the week ending Nov. 16, only 1,652,136 CDs have been sold in Canada all year. That’s a drop of 13.4 per cent from the same time last year. Looking at the U.S., a billion discs were sold in 2001. Last year, the number was 33 million.

Yes, we still had Black Friday and the whole holiday shopping period to go, but when the calendar flips to 2024, CD sales will still see another year-over-year decline.

Meanwhile, vinyl sales are up almost 24 per cent over 2022, despite prices being ludicrously high. More than a million new LPs have sold so far this year. Factor in the bustling market for used vinyl — something that Luminate does not track — and it’s conceivable that vinyl will outsell CDs in 2023. Because of its high price point, vinyl has already generated more revenue than its shiny 5-inch cousin.

When the CD made its public debut in December 1982, we were told that this was an End of History moment. Through the magic of digital technology, the ultimate in audio reproduction had been achieved. What’s more, CDs were purportedly indestructible. “Perfect sound forever,” they said.

This, of course, wasn’t true.

Keep reading.

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 38156 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “We need to talk about how much longer the compact disc will survive. Is the end near?

  • I can guarantee CDs will make a comeback. The streaming services will continue to balkanize, raise prices, geolock/”vault” titles and annoy enough artists to make a few major players pull their catalogues. Toss a bit of nostalgia on top and you have a recipe for a comeback.

    I’m scouring thrift stores like crazy right now because I can already see the demand starting to rise at the ground level. Value Village has gone as far as to start raising their CD prices from $1.99 to $4.99 because people are willing to pay that much.

  • I had a hard time recently trying to replace my 5 cd player. I paid for the same music in vinyl, then tape, then cd. I refuse to pay for streaming or any other platform for music purchased previously. I get some streaming for free, but sites like iheart radio take over my playlist and add other music. I just want to hear what I want to hear. I rarely listen on my phone as earbuds won’t stay in my ears, and I like to play my rock loud. CDs are what is offered for purchase by bands such as Foo Fighters so that is what I am going with so I can control what and when I hear a song. That is why I purchase music I like.


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