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Opinion : A new year but when will CD die?

When CD came onto the market in 1982 it made digital audio go stratospheric. What you could get per pound or dollar out of the CD player relegated vinyl from your favourite steak restaurant to McDonalds. That’s a large reason why we had an incline in CD sales right up until around 2000. All those stores that have come and gone – in the UK we had Our Price, MVC, Virgin Megastores. Then the internet came along. Oh dear….

Everyone knows the story since. Piracy eating into sales, YouTube music videos where people don’t even bother to buy music anymore. The rise of internet streaming but streaming services not making any money. A fractured market with the formats of consuming audio. Using the restaurant analogy, just like the choice of Nando’s, Wagamama, etc etc. The list is endless but not really knowing if you are on foot or horseback. Rant, rant, rant, rant, rant…… Yes 5 rants, and I say that slightly tongue in cheek because let’s be honest, we will get our music somehow. Music is the winner and less so, the format. How we get it determines what conduit for playing it, sits in our HiFi.

But let us not forget we all killed the CD in our own way. You know it was dieing when you could pick up a copy of your favourite crooner for a dollar with the morning milk. When you first signed up to spotify all those years back.

My provocative question of what for the end of CD and when will it come is more voyeuristic a question about CD I think. A bit like the murder documentaries which are the preserve of Netflix. So I did some trawling around the internet to come up with a range of views based on others, my own and some stats out there at the moment…

Workmen boarding up HMV Oxford Street, London (Summer 2019)

But before we get all ‘my CD player ain’t going nowhere’ about it, I’m not talking death of CD players and that some sort of apocalypse will happen to wipe out the lasers reading your CDs…..Although that would make a slightly weird and interesting film. I’m talking death of new CD production. The physical media just being redundant, as a carrier for content in an online internet world.

An interesting anecdotal article this year was about the planned closure of Sony’s Digital Audio Disc Corporation manufacturing site at Enfield, London, UK. It revealed that a fire there in 2011 had caused 25 percent of the loss of the whole of the UK’s entertainment discs. It shows the fragility of CD manufacturing if we are to correctly assume 25% of a countries manufacturing rests on one plant, and conceivably a higher percentage too.

As we pose these questions some HiFi firms are all but drying up development of CD players, judging by stagnation of model line ups. Others are capitalising on CD still. As sure as eggs are eggs, we’ll still need CD players to deal with the plethora of used CDs out there. Your used $1 Amazon ‘cheapey’, not to mention the thousands of CDs in boxes sitting between wooden loft girders. Assuming you aren’t tempted by the streaming server response already, that is. So my point is that continuing to develop CD player technology could be an opportunity for some firms, if others shut up shop with CD manufacture death.

So the first question to ask is where is demand and if we look at latest graphs, can we predict how long new CD production has got in the UK by simple extrapolation. Well it should be tits up by about 2023 according to the BBC/BPI.

Source : BPI (BBC) with my extrapolation

What about by the RIAA for US sales. It’s a similar but slightly quickened story if you isolate out all other formats using their online graph tools;

RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) CD Sales 1983 – 2018
Enlarged section 2010 to ?

But then thinking of basic economics, we know that because CD producing manufacturers have a break even point, demise of new CD production will happen way before the line hits zero. The cost to the distributors and manufacturers and all those employees in the business.

And let’s be clear here, I’m not one for scaremongering the demise of CD or manufacturers who make CD players, as we’ve established audiophile firms will likely continue to make them well beyond loss of mass market adoption. Also it’s a great time to buy a CD player at the moment with such good deals. Cyrus Audio, renowned for their CD players dropped the price of upgrades to half price a year or two back. But I’m a realist and thinking in these lifespan terms is sensible.

It’s all a bit weird in places like Japan. The least likely place you’d expect to rely on physical formats but having visited Tokyo, I know the Japanese can be a quirky bunch. Such is their preponderance for the physical presence of things. 72% of music sales there in 2017 were by physical format. So will this mean local variations in the survival of manufacturing plants? Well it has to in order that demand can be met.

CD jewel cases are indelible on our minds…
…so too the compact disc digital audio logo.

In the first half of 2019 according to the RIAA, subscription services accounted for 62% of all music sales. The adage people are still into CD because it offers better quality to online streaming is redundant because nowadays it’s all about the DAC, transport and the rest of the HiFi.

Regardless of what will really happen, I for one just hope CD manufacture lasts as long as possible. What other ways are there to get all your old and new albums cheaply, in one format, perhaps as a master for ripping to your hard drive for streaming? This is all I really use CDs for and the better convenience.

But I think Audiophiles have to be careful with the notion that investing in CD is a way to support artists. The usual reasons of the relative lack of profitability of streaming services are banded about. I can see reasons where this might be true, but the fact is if we don’t invest in music the way the market is going – and that is undeniably in streaming services – then that throttles the ability of artists to make money like in CDs heyday. My attitude is what will achieve this is consumer led mass market streaming services with economies of scale and bigger demand. All those choices of restaurants making price high and we really need one great format that is the conduit for our music. Perhaps not analogous to food choice though!

Thanks for supporting my website and happy new year to everyone. I’d love to know your thoughts on CDs lifespan? Best wishes, Simon.

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an AUDIO-LOVER who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE way. I am primarily interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews are not overly technical and I don't use pretentious language, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and is to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

In depth : A Film about the Cyrus ONE Cast (Part II)