Contrary to Popular Belief, the Compact Disc Isn’t Dead Just Yet
To most people, it's a foregone conclusion that the day of the compact disc has passed, with the music format having gone the way of the 8-track tape - to the great compost pile in the sky, replaced with the age of digital downloads. A new report indicates, however, that there may still be some life left in the shiny storage platter.
According to a story by Billboard released over the weekend, even though as recently as the mid-point of this year, when the RIAA's outlook showed a 46.9 percent drop from last year, it may not be as bleak as it seems. As a counterpoint, the article points out that what was counted in the tally is shipments - not sales - making the decline appear much more drastic than reality shows.
"A look at actual sales from Nielsen Music tells a different story," says Billboard. "Nielsen's mid-year numbers show that for the week ending June 29, 2018, CD sales totaled 34.8 million, or nearly twice as many as what the RIAA says. Further, that number is down 19.7 percent year over year -- not the 47.4 percent in shipments, as tracked by the RIAA -- as sales in the previous year’s six month period totaled 43.4 million. Meanwhile, download albums are counted at 28.6 million, down from 36.3 million, a slightly larger 21.4 percent drop than the CD, with track sales down even further, according to Nielsen Music."
The staggering distance between the numbers of the RIAA and Nielsen is because the former subtracts return shipments, which typically come back in bulk to the major labels post-holiday season. That's been a bait-and-switch issue for decades; remember the KISS solo albums? Back in 1978, there was a ton of fanfare over the fact the four LPs, one for each member of the band, had respectively shipped platinum in September of that year. Less reported was the aftermath, which saw more than half of them shipped back to Casablanca Records after the holiday season passed. In total, the solo albums sold just over a million copies total.
There are other reasons why the RIAA has hit the panic button number. R&B/hip-hop is by far the most popular genre in music right now. Yet 25 of the titles released in that category which landed in the Top 10 on the charts didn't even have a physical CD made available for sale in the first week. Further, more than half of them still don't have a compact disc manufactured.
Newbury Comics head of purchasing Carl Mello told Billboard that “If we had CDs on those albums, the [format’s] sales numbers would tell a different story. When 90 percent of the most popular music [hip-hop] in America doesn't show up on CD, of course sales will be down. Duh.”
Rock music is the second biggest genre, one which saw a much smaller decline in CD sales, with an 8.7 percent drop in the first half of 2018, from 13.5 million copies at the mid-year point in 2017 to 12.56 million copies to the same calendar period this year. And while many brick and mortar outlets like Best Buy have stopped carrying CDs, there are nearly 2000 independent retailers still pushing the format, with Billboard likening it to vinyl in appealing to a niche audience; the majority of that niche audience is rock fans.
Other causes of the general line of thinking that compact discs have one foot in the grave have to do with things less simple to measure, like the effect moving release dates from Tuesday to Friday in the United States has had, or the decision by laptop makers to cease offering a disc drive as standard in their hardware packages. But if anything comes away from the Billboard report, it's that there is still a market for CDs.
"It's important that this article challenges some of the other misleading articles that have been published lately about the CDs ultimate demise, which is simply not true," says Stephen Judge, owner of Schoolkids Records in a statement. "We have an opportunity and obligation to further develop the demands here and work with those individuals in our business that see this and embrace it fully. Many of which have been in this business for up to five decades and have seen trends come and go."
20 Best Selling Hard Rock + Metal Albums in the United States