Why Are CDs Still a Thing in Japan?

If you’ve seen the Tower Records documentary All Things Must Pass, you’ll know that the film ends with the chain’s founder visiting Japan where Tower Records is still a thriving business. Actually, it’s not just Tower. The Japanese are still mad for their CDs. But why? Cuepoint takes a look.

Okay, so I’m borderline otaku. Maybe not the I-hate-everyone-but-Miku-chan kind, but I absolutely adore Japanese manga and anime. That said, I never understood why the average Japanese teenager-in-ink is the music technology equivalent of Amish. They’re still swapping CDs intankōbon-land! What gives?

So I did a little research and uncovered startling facts. Close to 85% of all music sold in Japan moves around on those circular, scratch-prone pieces of plastic that went out of style with Creed: the venerable compact disc. Insane! To boot, Japan is the world’s second largest music market.

Let this sink in for a while: the U.S., number one in global record sales, has 60% more people than Japan and a 30% market share. The latter, meanwhile, already corners over a fifth of the market, and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) predicts Japan could eventually dethrone the longtime CD champ.

More astoundingly, imports made up a paltry 11% of Japan’s music revenue pie in 2015, meaning homegrown acts (notably the 127 miniskirted girls-strong group, AKB48) are raking in cash for record labels and publishers at rates far exceeding other top 10 markets.

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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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