The CD is dead

In 2011 digital music sales surpassed physical music sales for the first time ever. Is this goodbye to physical music formats?

You are reading: The CD is dead

First came the phonograph, then radio, vinyl, 8-Track and cassette tape (dare I mention MiniDisc?) All of these once mainstream audio formats have fallen out of favour over the years, replaced by more modern, accessible technology.


Image via technicolor76

The last remaining physical music presence, at least in mainstream society is the CD, but that might not be the case for much longer.

According to The Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2011 Music Industry Report released last week, the music industry hit a major milestone in 2011, as digital music sales surpassed physical music sales for the first time ever. Here are some stats;

  • There were 1.27 billion digital tracks sold in 2011, a new record and 8.4% higher than 2010
  • Digital music sales accounted for 50.3% of all music purchases in 2011
  • Digital album sales exceeded 100 million for the first time with a new all-time high of 103.1 million sales, an increase of nearly 20% on 2010
  • While total digital album growth was 20% in 2011, certain genres flourished more than others. Most noticeably; Rap and Electronic (up 42%), Country and R&B (up 27%) and Latin (up 23%)
  • For the first time ever, a digital song had more than five million downloads in a calendar year; Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” (5.8 million) and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” (5.5 million)
  • For the first time, more than 100 Digital Songs (112) exceeded the 1 million sales mark for the year
  • In 2011 there were 38 different digital songs with sales that exceeded two million (compared to 37 in 2010, 31 in 2009, 19 in 2008 and nine in 2007)
  • In 2011, eight different artists broke the 10 million digital track sales mark

Facts done, now for a slightly hypercritical, nostalgic rant.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that although I’m pleased to see the digital music industry flourishing, I can’t help but feel a little sad about the decline of physical formats that I’ve grown to know and love.

I’m one of the few weirdo’s who still buys CDs – an actual item that I can pick up, admire, read, carry to my car, share with friends and store on my shelf with the rest of my music collection.

Digital music is different. I’m all for instant gratification but digital media has become almost too accessible, meaning there’s no connection with the product as it’s filed on our computer with all our other media, probably destined for a life on the ‘shuffle’ playlist.

Understandably the vast majority of people don’t care how and where their music originates and it’s each to their own, but let’s not lose touch with the bigger picture because there’s so much more to music than an an audio file.

Long live the CD.

3 thoughts on “The CD is dead

  1. I think comparing single song sales to Album sales is misleading;

    CD album sales were down 12% from last year, were as Digital Album Sales were up 15%

    However in 2011 CD sales made up for 52.7 Million album purchases were-as digital sales made up only 25.1 Million

    52.7 Million at around $12 dollars a pop = $600million thats still about half of what digital tracks made…which still makes it a viable, and profitable medium

    I do believe physical media is “dying” but it’s a bit of a hyperbole to say it is dead, these numbers are not nearly as drastic in comparison from the near-overnight revolution from Vinyl to Tapes and then Tapes to CDs. One of the main problems being, getting digital music to play in one’s car is still a pain in the arse for most of the non-tech-savvy.

    At the current rate of decline, you are still going to see CDs around for AT LEAST another 5 years, unless someone finally teaches everyones mom how to re-connect the bluetooth sync after it messes up and she doesn’t want to go back to the dealership.

  2. Bill Gates is famously quoted as saying "The CD is dead". Since that time millions of CDs have been replicated and untold CD duplication runs have been completed.

    He's also is attributed with saying that 640k of memory was plenty for anyone (though to be fair he denies this!).

  3. The argument for CD sales is quality. If you truly want to buy as much of the music as the artist intended then CD’s are far better in potential quality then a downloaded album. That said, if you look at the devices these days used to play back either digital downloads or CD’s. Your left wondering why we went to digital for quality when the end hardware such as MP3 players and CD Players along with headphones are of such bad quality? Just try and find a good CD player anymore? Its either a cheap portable from the likes of Coby or maybe a bit better Sony. Or use a home DVD player or your laptop or desktop PC. Its not that CD’s are going away but that hardware to play them is. Even when you import your CD collection to your PC you find that default import settings favor saving storage space rather then making a true copy of the CD. Thus you loose content. Now some may not hear the difference but it is less then a perfect copy. Some music artist argue that the download digital age has caused quality to become lost over quantity. What I have done is to forget importing CD’s and go back to at least enjoying more of the music on the CD. I don’t think CD’s are dead. I just think we need to get back to being more concerned about the quality of the music and not so much the format. Bring back some decent hardware and the CD will shine.

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