Everyone knows about the vinyl rebirth. In 2021 UK vinyl record sales reached 5. 3 million, according to British Phonographic Industry (BPI) figures , the particular highest in more than three decades, marking the format’s 14th year of consecutive growth. Streaming still dominates music consumption, accounting for 83 per cent of all songs listened to in the UK last year. But the resurgence of the particular LP – a format launched inside 1948 – shows that not everyone is won over simply by streaming. Many music fans still crave a material aspect to their listening experience.
Yet the vinyl industry is in crisis. In September 2021 I reported on the huge delays at pressing plants , caused by an increase in demand that the limited number of manufacturing facilities just cannot match. The pandemic, Brexit , and now the war inside Ukraine, have forced the particular prices associated with raw materials to rise, leaving vinyl production impossible for many smaller artists and labels – and unaffordable for followers browsing records whose prices have now inflated.
“It’s simply so hard, everything keeps getting pushed back all the time, ” said Nigel House, the co-owner of Rough Trade, describing the particular constantly changing schedules his team has to manage. “Though I think that is going in order to ease next year. ”
There will be, however , another format ripe for a comeback. November 2022 marks 40 years since CDs first appeared on the market. At 25 years old, I am an unlikely compact disc devotee. “How old are you? ” House asked, when I phoned him up to discuss the particular current state of CDs and admitted to my passion with regard to the format. I answered. “Are you? Blimey. That’s interesting. I’m 64 and I mean, I like CDs. I love the price of them. I like the convenience of all of them. But it’s really mostly people the age who like buying them! ”
When I first became interested in music in the mid-Noughties, the CD was the default format. My parents gave me ABBA Gold and Fatboy Slim’s The Greatest Hits as birthday presents. Soon I was spending my pocket money on Lily Allen singles, plus albums by Sandi Thom and Amy MacDonald. Aged 11, I had been given our first iPod – a bright orange Nano – on in order to which I religiously downloaded songs from my growing CD collection. We would sometimes buy tracks from iTunes, but nothing compared with browsing the racks of HMV and bringing home the CD whose lyric booklet I could study until I knew every word.
Had I actually been older and let loose regarding longer periods on the family’s PC, I can only imagine the fun I might have got had upon Napster, the particular short-lived file-sharing service credited with altering listening habits forever. But it was the COMPACT DISC that caught me. As my peers migrated in order to downloads, then to Spotify, and a few more recently to Apple Music or Deezer, I have stayed committed to the CD. I will always enjoy browsing in high-street record shops, and because I’ve grown wiser in order to the economic disparity of the music industry, my insistence on financially supporting my favourite artists has only increased.
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While a single Spotify stream is usually valued in approximately $0. 004 , a figure that a good artist might see a share of if they have paid off their debts to their label, buying the hard copy of an album is a monetary expression of my belief in an artist. CDs remain less than half the particular price associated with LPs – this week We bought the new Orielles album on CD for £10. 99; on vinyl it would have cost £25. 99 – and are more easily transferred to a digital music library. Compared with vinyl, CDs are more sonically reliable and easier to lug between rented flats – and they still satisfy the need for a physical collection. So when will the compact disc get its great revival?
ABBA’s The particular Visitors , originally released in 1981, was the first album in order to be produced on COMPACT DISC. It was manufactured from a Philips factory in Langenhagen, near Hanover, Germany, on 17 August 1982 in the project co-developed by Philips and Sony. The first Compact disks and CD players appeared on the market inside Japan within November, followed in the US plus Europe in March 1983.
Together, Philips and Sony partnered to position a digital audio disk as a new standard for the songs industry. Engineers originally hoped that this disc would hold one hour of audio. (The 12-inch vinyl fabric record, played at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, holds 22 minutes per side. ) That was later extended to accommodate a complete performance associated with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony , which typically lasts around 70 moments. The compact disc – 12 centimetres in diameter and with a capacity of 74 minutes, thirty-three seconds – was born.
CD product sales started to take off inside 1983, and in 1985 Dire Straits’ fifth album Brothers in Arms became the first album to sell more than the million copies in the file format, surpassing plastic sales . In the music industry’s boom time of the particular 1990s, the CD reigned supreme. More than 1 billion units were sold in 1992, and 2 billion dollars in 1996, peaking with 2. 455 billion in 2000. For contemporary listeners of the particular era’s biggest albums – Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill , Oasis’s ( What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Radiohead’s Kid A – the COMPACT DISC format is definitely inextricable through the songs itself.
“If you go by what a person read within the newspapers, CDs are dead plus nobody buys them, ” said Nigel House of Rough Industry. “But of course people do buy them, and people do like all of them. ”
In the UNITED KINGDOM the CD has been in decline since 2000. It remains that way – but only just. According to data through the Digital Entertainment and Retail Association , in 2021 CD recording sales were down 3. 9 per cent from the previous year, amounting in order to just over £150m, or a 9 % share associated with total music sales. While it is still a decrease, in context this represents something of the recovery: inside 2020 COMPACT DISC sales declined by 28 percent. What is more, CDs still sell more than vinyl records: a lot more than 14 million CDs to five. 3 mil vinyl LPs in 2021, according to the BPI.
In the particular United States, nevertheless , the format seems to be in far ruder health, with CD sales increasing in 2021 for the first time in 17 many years. Adele’s 30 was your highest-selling album in both countries, selling 898, 000 duplicates on COMPACT DISC in the particular US and 409, 406 in the UK.
Vinyl still reigns at Rough Trade, where House stated CDs account for just 20 per penny of sales by volume – across shops online and inside east plus west London, Nottingham and Bristol. He has noticed CD sales growing, but puts that down to in-store gigs, where enthusiasts must buy either a CD or vinyl duplicate from the artist’s latest record to gain entry. Lots of people will choose the COMPACT DISC option given that it is so much cheaper, but won’t bother to pick it up. After a series of recent in-store events along with Easy Life, an indie-pop group with a young fanbase, he noticed several attendees had not collected their own paid-for Compact disks from the particular shop. “I always think, well, that must end up being people who don’t have CD players. With computers not having drives anymore, cars lacking CD players, lots associated with young people do not have gamers now. ”
CDs are usually even less popular on Drift Information in Totnes, Devon, data processing for 8 per dollar of product sales, in contrast to 88 per cent on vinyl (the other 4 per cent is artist merchandise). But the CD market is safe, said Rupert Morrison, the co-owner of the shop. “It has been reliable plus steady for a long period of time. I don’t see it going anywhere. ” He compared vinyl buyers – who are “quite susceptible to the novelty releases or the very restricted, fetish end of collectors’ items” – to COMPACT DISC fans, who are “just so clearly ardent songs fans. I believe that’s quite a rush, really”.
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Sound quality is important for customers of Burning Shed, an independent record label that will hosts official stores intended for artists and labels including Robert Fripp, Jethro Tull and All Saints Records (which offers put out music by Brian Eno plus John Cale). “We possess a lot of hi-fi buffs that buy from us, ” mentioned Tim Bowness, the store’s cofounder and one half of the art-pop duo No-Man. “They care about how these people listen to songs and the sound of their music. Vinyl can be fantastic, yet it is more variable. ” Analogue supporters often praise the “warmth” of the sound associated with vinyl, but for those listening to get accuracy to the master recording, the digital nature of a CD offers consistency across many discs.
CDs have dominated at Burning Shed since 2001, when the label launched: in 2021, they accounted for 62. 5 % of total purchases. “I would say that over the years it has plateaued rather than fallen, ” Bowness said. “We’ve seen ten to possibly 15-fold increases in sales of vinyl. It is true: the vinyl resurgence was genuine. But we didn’t see a fall in sales of CDs. ”
“People are looking for substance, value, connection, ” he added – and vinyl, with its blown-up artwork, tactile packaging and ritualistic playing experience is the obvious antithesis to streaming. But for the average consumer, CDs seem to have got lost somewhere in the middle, offering neither the ease of a streaming platform, nor the physical heft of the 12-inch slab of vinyl.
Certain genres and styles sell particularly well on CD. Alongside the left-field rock and pop that Burning Shed specialises in, Bowness notes that ambient, electronic and classical artists who produce experimental, longer pieces of work often prefer to release on CD because of the practicality of the format. On vinyl, such a work might require “a triple album or perhaps a big double album, and this is very costly. The CD is still a cost-effective way to work, and artists feel it projects their music in the best possible way sonically. ”
The week I spoke to House at Rough Trade, the Arctic Monkeys and Dry Cleaning were due to release new albums, both of which would do well on CD, he said. Certain back catalogue releases are especially popular within the format, such as a newly mixed reissue from the Beatles’ Revolver , out on 28 October. “We’ve done really well on those. ” Other “heritage acts”, such as country artists, and bands like the Rolling Stones, continue to perform well on CD, as well as soul compilations. “Personally I love the reggae compilations on a label called Doctor Bird, by Cherry Red. ”
As the priorities of listeners and labels evolve, so do prices. For right back catalogue releases, shops are dependent on labels maintaining fair costs. House said that Sony has recently increased its prices of back catalogue CDs, meaning that to make a profit, Rough Trade needs to sell a classic album like Lou Reed’s Transformer (1972) for £15. “Nobody’s going to pay £15 for that! I guess a lot of the major labels would be quite happy if there weren’t physical products, because streaming is so much easier to do. They make so much money from it. ”
But it is physical products that are crucial for record shops. Yet, as well as having to put up with ongoing delays with vinyl production – CDs take just four-to-six weeks, Bowness said – vinyl records are incredibly fragile and prone to breakages.
“It’s the bane of our life when a box turns up and it’s been kicked about en route, ” said Morrison at Drift Records. “We have to return the stock and there isn’t really anything anyone can do about it. I have to pay for shipping to have it sent back towards the distributor, then the distributors pretty much just throw it within the bin. It’s wasteful and depressing. ” The hardy CD is nowhere near so vunerable to damage – and, Morrison added, “all components of the CD – from the disc through to the case, the liners, everything besides the shrink-wrap – is very recyclable”.
Recently, House has noticed that Rough Trade customers are “more wary of taking punts on things”. He has watched them grow “more conservative within their purchasing, which is understandable” given the present cost-of-living crisis. Might songs fans that are nevertheless dedicated in order to the physical album, yet cautious about splashing out quite a lot, migrate in the LP to the CD?
Forty years about from the format’s appearance upon the market, Bowness isn’t ruling this out. “It’s possible. I actually never thought that cassettes would come back, but they are definitely having a moment in the sun. Dont really see why the particular CD can’t do the same, provided that it’s an infinitely better structure. ”
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