Music on plastic discs still popular, apparently

What's a CD?


Every year the story's the same – but every year it is stranger to report. People continue to buy pre-packaged plastic music discs – most containing as little as one album – despite the rise in digital album sales, the cheaper option of listening on demand, and the risk-free option of downloading entire discographies in one go. Barmy, but true.

The Official Chart Company reports that digital album downloads in the UK have hit 10 million, a figure only reached by the end of August last year, when 16.7 million were sold in the full year.

Music formats by
revenue, 1973-2008 [part].
Click to enlarge

CD sales continue their stately decline, falling 8.5 per cent so far year-on-year. After a small rise in plastic music sales in 2009 – attributed to the "Susan Boyle effect" and the death of Michael Jackson – last year CD album sales fell 12.4 per cent.

The demand for music on plastic discs is remarkable considering that the format peaked in 1999: 12 years ago.

You can click the picture to assess how CD revenue compared to other formats. It's a couple of years out of date, and the fall in the US has been much steeper.

The persistence of the compact disc is also strange considering how difficult it is to find on our ailing High Streets. Zavvi and Woolies disappeared from the High St in 2009, HMV closed many more outlets last year, and retailers purportedly selling music hide it well.

But as Cooking Vinyl label boss Martin Goldschmidt pointed out the last time readers mused why the format was so durable, CDs are "a great data carrier and backup storage medium". It also helps that there's a compatible music player almost anywhere – especially in cars.

Meanwhile Hollywood, in an attempt to avoid many of the mistakes the music business has made, doesn't really care whether you buy a plastic disc of a film, or access it on demand. With the forthcoming UltraViolet service, you can have either, or both. It is selling you a licence. ®


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