Are music compact discs having a comeback?

The compact disc gave us our first taste of digital music – and we loved it.

When it arrived in the United States in March 1983, the sleek 4.7-inch plastic and aluminum disc – the size of a coaster – promised crisp, clean digital music reproduction without the pops heard on records or the hiss of tapes.

The CD had some drawbacks. Vinyl coffee table sized artwork and text was lost due to the size of the new format.

And, initially, CDs were sold in long, environmentally unfriendly cardboard boxes to prevent theft. The plastic cases also had pesky little metal ribbon seams called dog bones, which required a razor-sharp tool to slice through.

But CDs allow us to listen to over an hour of music just by pressing play. We could skip tracks and shuffle too. CDs propelled recorded music revenues to new heights in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and remained the dominant consumer choice until 2012, when other digital formats supplanted CDs. .

Over the years, American music lovers have purchased 14.9 billion CDs since the format’s arrival, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

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Musicians still love compact discs

Country star Thomas Rhett’s most recent album, the 2022 release “Where We Started”, is available on vinyl, CD and cassette – and, of course, for digital download or streaming.

“Everybody’s putting music on,” Rhett told USA TODAY. But in recent years there has been a trend to make music available in more physical formats, he said.

“There’s something for me about owning the music,” Rhett said.

“I feel like they’re coming back”

For international touring group Radkey, CD and vinyl sales at the band’s Kansas City live gigs help keep the show on the road. “You can always rely on your merchandise sales to pay for gas, hotel and stuff like that,” bassist Isaiah Radke said.

“CDs still work great,” he said. “I feel like they’re kind of coming back.”

Come back indeed. Sales of physical music — mostly vinyl records, but also CDs and even cassette tapes — rose 4% in 2022, the RIAA said.

Leading the way was Taylor Swift, whose album “Midnights” sold the most physical copies: 945,000 on vinyl, 640,000 on CD and 14,000 on cassette, according to entertainment data tracking firm Luminate. Swift also sold 174,000 “Folklore” vinyl records in 2022.

When you add on-demand audio and video streams, Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti” was the top album of the year, according to Luminate, with the equivalent of 3.4 million albums sold, compared to Swift’s “Midnights” 3.3 million.

Digital music sales increase

Streaming services pushed music spending to a record $15.9 billion in 2022, accounting for 84% of all spending, the RIAA said. Music delivered via subscription services, ad-supported services, digital radio, social media, digital fitness apps and other options collectively totaled $13.3 billion.

Paid subscriptions to services like Spotify grew 8% in 2022, topping $10 billion for the first time.

Vinyl records beat CDs for the first time in decades

Consumers bought more vinyl than CDs for the first time since 1987, according to the RIAA. Consumers purchased 41.3 million vinyl records and 200,000 vinyl singles in 2022, an increase of 3.2%. CD sales fell 28% to 33.4 million albums and 100,000 CD singles.

Spending on vinyl records, which typically cost more, exceeded CD revenues in 2020 with $643.9 million for vinyl and $483.2 million for CDs, according to the RIAA.

Vinyl album sales have been slowly increasing since accounting for just $14.2 million in revenue in 2005. In each of the past two years, vinyl sales have exceeded $1 billion in revenue; vinyl grew 20% to $1.2 billion in 2022.

CD sales, which had increased 21% in 2021 to $585.4 million, fell slightly in 2022 to $482.6 million.

When was the compact disc invented?

Sony and Philips, which released the laserdisc in 1978, began developing the compact disc in 1979. The first player and discs were released in Japan in 1982, followed by Europe and the United States in March 1983. The first CD released in Japan? “52nd Street” by Billy Joel.

When it first launched in 1983 in the United States, only 75 stores in the country were selling CDs, and the players were pricey, around $900, The Atlantic reported. This equates to approximately $2,700 in today’s dollars. The discs, which initially cost between $16 and $20, with inflation now cost the equivalent of $48 to $60.

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How does a compact disc work?

Digital data is stored in a long, spiraling chain of microscopic bumps – or pits, if viewed from above – measuring 125 nanometers in height or depth (in a strange coincidence, that’s equal to the microscopic size of a COVID-19 virus particle). The data string making up the album on a music CD, if stretched straight, would be about 3.5 miles long, according to scientists at Yale University.

When you insert a CD into a drive, an infrared laser reads through the transparent polycarbonate plastic substrate comprising most of the disc’s thickness and reflects off an embedded aluminum layer. When the laser hits the bumps, the change in intensity of the reflected beam is registered by a sensor, which translates it into digital music data.

What made the success of the compact disc? Cool look and portability

Several factors have contributed to CD’s success. Record labels and electronics manufacturers could charge more than they did for vinyl and turntables.

CDs may have cost more, but consumers could see the value. “From a purely practical standpoint, the CD was unbeatable,” said Ken Pohlmann, columnist for Sound & Vision and author of Principles of Digital Audio.

“The records were almost as cheap to make as LP records and were sturdier than LP records. They also had a cool look, which was a huge selling point,” said Pohlmann, professor emeritus of music engineering. at the University of Miami.

“And the real breakthrough was that the CD allowed the music to be portable. … You can play it around the house, in the car and on the plane and while you’re jogging. You had a format to rule them all. It was just mind-blowing to the consumer at the time.”

The compact disc led to later formats such as DVD and Blu-ray disc, each storing movies, video games and music on ever more data-rich discs.

How well do compact discs sell?

Eight years after the arrival of the CD, it has become the dominant format surpassing the audio cassette. Total CD album sales of $4.3 billion in 1991 accounted for 55.4% of total recorded music revenue that year, according to the RIAA.

In 1999, consumers spent $13 billion on CDs, or 88% of the $14.6 billion spent on music. In today’s inflation-adjusted dollars, consumer spending on CDs this year would be nearly $23 billion and account for the bulk of the $25.6 billion spent on music this year. that year, in what would be considered the most successful in the industry, the RIAA. said.

CD sales have been on a downward trend since 2000. The slight increase in CD sales in 2021 may have been caused by the shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, with people staying home and buying more records, said Pohlmann. “The pandemic has distorted everything,” he said. “I wonder if it’s just another distortion.”

Will the compact disc live?

When the format was conceived in the 1980s, optical discs were the obvious storage medium due to their ability to store millions of bytes of data (several minutes of music) at low cost.

“Once solid-state memory became affordable, MP3 players and iPods proliferated,” Pohlmann said. “It was the death knell for CDs because they had all the advantages of the Compact Disc but were even smaller and even more practical.”

Thus, the life of the shiny silver disc may be declining. But a beloved music format could live on, he said.

“I think the LP will outlive the CD. It pains me to say it, but the LP is more retro technology – more authentic, more romantic,” Pohlmann said. “The CD was one of the most beautifully crafted products to ever come out of the late 20th century. It opened the door to our modern world of digital music, but I think it was a transitional technology whose time is over. gone.”

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

USA Today

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