Compact disc

Not dead yet: record executives fight for the future of the compact disc


Adrian Doran knows he’s clinging to what many see as an outdated music format, but for him there is still a lot to love about compact discs.

It wasn’t that long ago that he made browsing HMV Canada’s CD aisles part of his buying routine, but when the retailer went bankrupt last spring, he was faced with the possibility. to migrate to a streaming music service.

Instead, he chose to start buying CDs from his local independent record store.

“I just bought them big,” the 52-year-old Toronto resident said of his appreciation of the CDs.

The flaws of streaming

Whether it’s the inferior sound quality or the inaccessibility of rarities, Doran finds music streaming services no match for its vast CD collection.

He tried Spotify but couldn’t see past its flaws, especially the albums missing from old artist catalogs which were replaced by “biggest hits” packages.
Despite the number of songs available on streaming services like Spotify, some notable albums may still be missing from artist catalogs. (Christian Hartmann / Reuters)

“There are huge holes,” he said of the selection. “It really surprised me.”

Although it has become what some have dubbed “the year of streaming”, 2017 proved that these shiny little discs still have some life in them.

This is not necessarily because of strong consumer demand from refractories like Doran. This is because the music industry is trying to avoid the demise of its goose that lays the golden eggs by all means.

Concert tickets, promos boost CD sales

CD sales were boosted this year by a trend that saw concert tickets to major arena shows – including tours of Arcade Fire, Shania Twain and Pink – delivered with a copy of the band’s latest album. or the artist.

Many viewers had the choice of a digital download or a CD sent in the mail. Whether these CDs were ever unwrapped is one to guess, but every ticket sale helped propel these artists to the top of the album charts during their first week on sale.
Taylor Swift’s reputation was banned from streaming services for three weeks when it released in November. (Large Machine / Associated Press)

Compact discs also played an important role in the launch of Taylor Swift from Reputation, her latest album, which was packaged in Walmart Canada stores with an exclusive magazine on the singer.

Streaming platforms didn’t get the best-selling album of the year until three weeks after its release, which meant many Swifties were dusting their parents’ boomboxes to get a first listen.

Other albums like Gord Downie’s posthumous Introduce yourself also saw the heavily weighted sales in the CD format. Approximately 9,700 copies were sold on CD, thousands more than its digital and vinyl sales combined.

Reports premature death: an expert

Preliminary figures from Nielsen Music Canada show that even though CD sales have fallen 18 percent in the past year, still selling around 10 million units, they were relatively strong compared to the more dramatic erosion. digital album sales at stores like iTunes.

Digital album sales fell nearly 25% for the year to 6.2 million units, extending what is expected to be a sharp drop as more listeners embrace streaming services.
CD sales are relatively strong compared to the more dramatic erosion of digital album sales at stores like iTunes. (Associated press)

David Bakula, who oversees Nielsen’s industry analytics operations, said changes in digital habits mean CDs represent a larger share of the declining album sales market.

He believes the writing of the CD’s obituary is premature as labels seek to increase album sales as best they can, while older listeners stick to their usual buying habits.

“We do not see this theft of the format,” he added.

Retailers are reducing CDs

But it’s impossible to deny that CDs took an irreparable punch in Canada when HMV’s 102 store closings left many communities without a music store for months. Sunrise Records eventually took over by reopening many of these locations with more emphasis on vinyl albums.

Walmart has also significantly reduced its CD selection while retail giant Best Buy recently removed music from its stores entirely.
CDs took an irreparable punch in Canada when HMV’s 102 store closings left many communities without a music store for months. (Toby Melville / Reuters)

All of this certainly does not bode well for boosting sales numbers, but music historian Alan Cross is confident that the record companies will follow the dollar.

“If they can’t get people into the store to buy a CD, well (they) will just send the CDs directly to them whether they like it or not,” he said, pointing out that the success of the ticket the bundles will only lead other artists to experiment with the strategy.

“By nature, a lot of music fans are collectors and that means they need a physical item to collect.”

It’s possible that an established band like Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones will try to raise the bar by pairing rare concert seats with an exclusive CD box set.

Proposals like these seem to be aimed at loyal listeners like Doran, who picked up Serena Ryder’s latest record from the merchandise table at a concert in Toronto a few weeks ago. He hopes that paying the money in person has given Ryder a little more profit.

But even in his house, the CD isn’t as important as it used to be. Usually, after buying a disc, he rips the tracks to his computer before throwing the physical copy in a box with a disturbing label on it: “Dead CDs”.

“It was a bit of dark humor,” he added.