How long can CD music hold out?

How long can CD music hold out?

Summary: Belated merry 2011, everyone! After a long break from the year-end festivities, I returned to the office this week feeling somewhat rejuvenated and, as I do ever year this time, nostalgic.


Belated merry 2011, everyone! After a long break from the year-end festivities, I returned to the office this week feeling somewhat rejuvenated and, as I do ever year this time, nostalgic.

Old memories flooded in especially after reports revealed that Sony will be shutting down a CD manufacturing plant in March, "in light of the current economic environment and challenges facing the physical media industry".

The latest revelation follows the company's announcement last October that it had ended production of the cassette Walkman, the first low-cost portable music player that made its market debut in July 1979. Sony shipped some 200 million variations of the Walkman during the media player's 30-year lifespan, until its decline when CD players entered the market in the 1990s.

And now it seems, CDs may be heading out the door.

According to the latest numbers released by Nielsen SoundScan, album sales--once the cash cow of record labels--dipped by 12.8 percent in the U.S. last year, where the music industry sold 47 million fewer CDs than it did in 2009.

In comparison, digital album sales climbed 13 percent and accounted for 26.5 percent of overall U.S. album sales in 2010. Individual digital track sales, however, rose only by 1 percent to 1.17 billion. In fact, for the first time in the digital music landscape, overall unit sales fell 2.4 percent.

Perhaps Nielsen's numbers say more about the failing business model of record labels than they do about the physical media market, but what remains telling is that CDs may indeed be on its way out.

It's a doomsday that many have predicted and one that I have always resisted, even as I witness one music store after another shut its doors for the final time. Today, I can count with one hand the number of dedicated CD shops that remain in business.

It's hard to conceive that it was only in July 2009 that a survey conducted by The Music Ally Speakerbox, revealed that 73 percent of 1,000 people polled said they still preferred to buy CDs than download music tracks. Also, 66 percent of respondents between the age of 14 and 18 would rather purchase a CD than fork out money to download an MP3 file online.

Last year, my fellow blogger Swati Prasad recalled fond memories of her library of cassette tapes as she packed them up to be recycled.

I, too, have a collection of about 1,000 music CDs which I had built over the years, and I wonder how many years remain before I have to stand before them, like Swati did with her precious tapes, and bundle them away to be sold to the rag-and-bone guy.

Until then, I shall continue to relish every minute browsing at my favorite CD shops, until the last one closes its doors for the last time.

Topics: Tech Industry, Emerging Tech, Government US, Hardware, Legal


Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • It's easy. Don't give people other option than download music with DRM from app. stores.
  • It is more like slow motion suicide on the part of the music industry. The CD stores carry a very limited catalog now, basically just offering music for teenagers, all of whom are busy downloading and ignoring the stores.

    I find it almost impossible to find anything that is either back catalog or out of the Western mainstream. It is actually much more convenient to get music from download sites like HDtracks (legit) or Pirate Bay (ahem).

    Music on a CD is stored as a digital file, yet the industry has done nothing to take advantage of that fact. Most of us consume and store music digitally, yet the industry continues to force distribution by physical CD, and has yet to work out how to provide the value-added features (cover art, lyrics, artist bios, reviews) that would distinguish their offering from simple pirated files.

    The industry deserves to fail given the way they have treated customers. Buying a physical CD in American packaging is to embark on a 10 minute attempt to remove all the packaging and tape that has been layered on to stop theft. The inability to distinguish between a customer and a thief is the ultimate failure.
  • I predict until about the year 2050.

    There will always be somewhere in the world selling mass produced compact discs, they might not be the red-book CD-Audio format we're used to today, but they will be around for a *very* long time indeed. National Broadband Networks (NBN's) in every nation or not!

    If the stores stock 80% Compact Discs, then they're asking to fail.

    There are 'mega-store' models which stock a more reasonable amount of CD's and stereo equipment that are booming thanks to peoples dislike of 'vendor lock in' music. They want to rip their own music and listen to it on their own device(s).

    In Australia this model is working wonders.
  • You're limited proposal wouldn't succeed in any marketplace. For it to work people have to actually want it.
  • They should sell music on SD cards if you ask me. With a heap of extra content, such as video, former DVD content (DVD-'Music' sales aren't exactly fantastic), and so on.

    Make it 'worth' buying.

    It doesn't take a genius to figure out the record labels are completely out of touch with their target audience of consumers.

    It does however take a genius to make the ignorant fat cats realise their mistake.

    I for one will not be missing Sony / EMC - Today's bands are their own label and don't need their 'help', nor to be hindered by their 'very limited market logic'.
  • We should more listen to "live" music.Grand piano ,violin ,human voice. It's real music