CDs, the Zombies of the Music Industry

No matter how hard we try to kill it, it just doesn’t stay down

If you were born in the early 90’s or the late 80’s, it’s very possible you have the option to list that you’ve got both a collection of CD’s at home and a lot of digital downloads on your computer.  Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you’re very into music and it possibly broadens the chances of this being the case.  What’s most unique about the late 80’s and 90’s generation is that, with our growing up to see the rise of digital, we have developed very strong opinions on whether to accept or reject the digital format versus the CD format.

In case you were saying “It doesn’t matter, CD’s are dead now,” well, I have a refreshing and shocking statistic for you.  In the United States as of 2011, CD sales were still more than 66% of purchased music over digital downloads, which were only a bit over 30%.  1% of music purchased is in vinyl (sorry my hip friends, it’s just that Vinyl is only for the die-hards these days).  Strangely enough though, in the first quarter of 2012 in the United Kingdom, digital sales actually out performed CD sales (an article I read credits Adele’s success and XL records to be part of the reason for this).  So, why are America and the UK’s takes on CD’s so different?

I didn’t understand this until I came to Spain to study abroad (I’m from the United States).  There wasn’t a single record store I could find, which is insane because the US still has record stores here and there.  Eventually, I found out that the general department store has a decent music section.  I found the album I was looking for, but amazingly enough, it was 20 euros!

If you live in Europe and you think that’s ridiculous, think about my take on it.  In the United States, the cost of an album on iTunes is usually a dollar more or less than a physical CD.  It’s roughly $9.99 per album, maybe more depending on deluxe or whether it’s a huge amount of songs.  At that point, you might as well just not be lazy and walk down to your local Newbury Comics/Rasputnam/(insert indie CD store that still somehow exists), and buy the album in CD format for the same price; but the exception here is that you get a nice physical booklet along with it, lyrics, and some physical artwork to use.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying CDs are an obvious choice here, it’s just that in the US it seems a bit more cost efficient to get more for what you pay for.  In Europe, the few times I have been to France, Spain, and England, the CD prices are far more expensive than the cost of downloading things digitally.  From what I hear from Japanese friends, the records there don’t come cheap either.

For this reason, I say that the United States will probably not adapt to going fully digital as fast as the rest of the world will.  It just doesn’t seem possible when prices are very close with each other.  For the rest of the world, I do believe that digital will be making its take over within the decade, especially with the statistic from the beginning of this year.  However, with major labels still running the business, I feel that the physical CD will always have its place in the business.  The major label has always had distribution as one of its largest advantages: they will not leave behind the CD format so easily as it is still considered a partial advantage especially in a place like the United States.  It’s also a possible part of the reason why it’s so hard to break through in the United States.

Therefore, in a way, we could say that the relationship to CDs in the market and major record labels (pardon me, Entertainment Groups) are completely direct proportions, with independent music and digital being the other direct proportion as well.  This is made clear with Adele and XL Records: I’ll place bets that the rise of digital in the UK earlier this year has something to do with two of Adele’s albums placing in the top 10 albums sold in the year.

Personally, I love CD’s, but I’ve come to accept that their time is running out.  What do you think?

http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2012/120104twothirds

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/uk-digital-music-sales-first-quarter-332180

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2 thoughts on “CDs, the Zombies of the Music Industry

  1. CD’s may currently account for more of total music purchased in the US, however the digital music market is rapidly expanding, digital releases are likely to take CD’s spot in the near future. According to Neilsen Sound Scan 2011 Year end release, Digital Album sales increased 19.5% just from 2010 to 2011 and is forcasted to continue growing, whereas total CD album sales continue to decline, from 2010 to 2011 they decreased by 5.7%. Considering these trends combined with the rise in consumption of music via streaming services and fact that the gross profit labels make from each CD album sale to be pitiful, it is likely CD’s in 10 years will become as common as vinyl is today.

    • True, but my argument is not that CD’s will survive at all, just that they’ll take a bit longer. The numbers will differ from site to site, but the fact is that the majors in the US will refuse to adapt to switching to digital more than in other countries because of the profits that they are making off of it. Yes, CD’s will die. But it’ll die much faster in places outside the United States.

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