Forget vinyl, now CDs are making a comeback | Music | Entertainment

An HMV store with racks of compact discs (Image: Getty)

The group may have been older rockers, but their Brothers In Arms album was the first to be recorded completely digitally, quickly becoming a bestseller synonymous with the new technology. The shiny silver CD, powered by laser technology, was the perfect vehicle for this new way of making music. They were also marketed as the perfect way to listen to music and soon became as essential in 1980s British homes as the sandwich maker or Sega Megadrive.

At their peak in 2004, 162.4 million CDs were sold in Britain alone.

After quickly wiping out sales of vinyl and its successor the cassette, a new CD has become the most affordable Christmas gift for friends and family.

But even in 2004, a peak year for sales, the format was in trouble – digitally downloaded music had arrived via Apple’s iPod three years earlier, Spotify introduced streaming in 2008 and CD soon seemed as redundant as the VHS.

As the CD celebrates its 40th anniversary, the shiny silver wonder is enjoying a comeback of sorts. And it’s not run by aging ex-yuppies. Instead, like the vinyl revival that began a decade ago, CDs are making a comeback thanks to the current generation of hipsters.

New figures show that sales rose last year in America, where 40.6 million CDs were sold, an increase of 1.2% compared to 40.2 million sales in 2020. The modest increase , buoyed by new albums from megastars Adele, Ed Sheeran and Abba, is the first in 17 consecutive years of declining sales.

In Britain, some 14 million have been sold, down 12% from 2020, but with the smallest drop in three years amid forecasts sales will level off and even rise.

Singer Ronan Keating poses in 2003 with the first iPod containing 10,000 songs (Picture: PA)

Vinyl record sales rose 10% to 5.3 million.

The CD was launched in August 1982 after three years of technological cooperation between electronics giants Philips and Sony.

When work began on the digital audio compact disc in 1979, the laser technology needed to play it had not even been finalized.

The cassettes used magnetic tape and the music passed from left to right. Once one side was done, you flipped it over for more songs on the other side. CDs quickly became more popular because you could jump straight to the song you wanted to hear, a convenience unmatched until the rise of streaming sites like Spotify (which now has over 90
million titles available).

Four decades later, fears over the rising price of newly fashionable vinyl (and a lack of manufacturing sites around the world) are driving music fans back to CDs – which means vinyl could be around again. overwritten by the format designed to replace it.

Paul Sinclair, editor of the site SuperDeluxeEdition, devoted to promoting physical music, said: “Young people like to react against the norms. Ten years ago, vinyl appealed to a new generation because it was something different.


Composer Herbert von Karajan (Image: Getty)

“But CDs are now light years ahead of vinyl in terms of accessibility. You can still get loads of CDs from charity shops for 50p or £1. If you’re into music and want to build a physical collection quickly and affordably, there is no competition.

There’s even a popular Twitter account, Vinyl Stupidity, dedicated to showcasing ridiculously expensive new and used records. Thomas Browne, who started the account in 2016, says: “You’re having a really hard time finding vinyl bargains now because everyone knows a little bit about collecting.

“People can whip out their phones to find out how much a record is worth, so the game has changed a lot. But the used CD market is still relatively sane. You can be a kid in a candy store if you want cheap CDs.

Ironically, with new records now costing £25-35 compared to £10 on CD, vinyl is more of a luxury item than its successor. Events like Record Store Day in the UK drew large queues to stores and made the limited editions highly collectible.

When the first CD player went on sale in 1982, the Sony CDP-101 cost £500: the equivalent of £1,880 in today’s money.

Sony and Philips originally planned for the CD to contain one hour of music.

Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams whose album Rudebox ended up as road paving material in China (Image: Getty)

But they thought the CD would appeal to classical music fans rather than pop fans, thinking they could more easily afford the expensive £15 CDs. Legendary composer Herbert von Karajan was persuaded to approve the CD but he had one condition: the CD had to be able to play all 74 minutes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Although the first record sold was Abba’s final album, The Visitors, classical music dominated early sales.

That changed in 1985 when Brothers In Arms came out. Dire Straits’ fifth album was the first to be recorded without traditional studio tapes.

Its digital clarity quickly made it the default album for stores to entice customers into buying a CD player. The relationship was cemented when Philips sponsored the Dire Straits world tour.

Within three years CDs had overtaken vinyl sales, helped by advances in technology that meant a new record player cost less than £100.

“It’s a factor that explains why the CD revival is happening,” says Thomas Browne. “If you have a £50 player, a CD will sound pretty good. On a £50 turntable, which looks like a suitcase, a record will sound terrible.

When CDs were in their heyday, they seemed like a license to print money: they cost 75 pence to make, but sold for £15. Some believe that the music industry has not done enough to protect these
lucrative sales.


CDs have overtaken vinyl sales in three years (Image: Getty)

Paul Sinclair explains: “One of the main reasons people bought CDs was to listen to them in the car. Many CD fans still like to do this, but only if their car is old enough to have a CD player.

“Music bosses have done nothing to pressure the auto industry to keep CD players in cars. The drop in sales wouldn’t have been so dramatic if they did. had been.

The industry also got it wrong in contrasting CDs and vinyl.

“When CDs were first released, they were defended on the basis that there were no vinyl negatives: no clicks, pops or skips,” says Paul.

“Consumers were told that these would disappear if we invested in CDs and a generation bought into them.

“There’s a lot of talk now about the ‘warmth’ sound of vinyl, which CD enthusiasts don’t believe to be true – not least because the industry said the exact opposite 35 years ago. Then it was, ‘Forget the vinyl and buy the CD’. Fans were urged to ditch their records and buy them again on CD. But, since vinyl sales have surged and turned a profit again, the message from the industry has once again reversed. All they talk about is vinyl.

“Well, what is it?” It’s weird that they continue to advocate one format over another, when they should be sending the message that CD and vinyl are awesome.

The official charts say they are planning an event to mark the CD’s 40th anniversary, which will likely take place in October.

A spokesperson for BPI – the industry’s trade association – said: “CD looks to remain an important part of the mix for years to come, in terms of how fans discover, enjoy and collect music. .”

The BPI highlights the importance of combined CD and vinyl sales, revealing, “Physical purchases accounted for more than half of No. 1 album sales in 40 of the 52 weeks in 2021.”

There are advantages and disadvantages of vinyl and CD for their environmental impact.

At 5 inches in diameter, the CDs are less than half the size of 12 inch vinyl, so they use less material, taking up less shipping and storage space.


CDs became more popular so people could listen to music in cars (Image: Getty)

But as music environmental charity Music Declares explains, vinyl is more likely to be kept and owned over and over, while CDs more often end up in landfill (in January 2008, EMI admitted to shipping a million unsold Robbie Williams CDs in China where they would be crushed and used in road surfacing materials).

As a mixture of plastic and metal, CDs are also more difficult to recycle, although Music Declares insists: “CDs can be recycled quite easily”. Thomas Browne hopes he doesn’t have to start a sister CD Stupidity account on Twitter to match Vinyl Stupidity. He said: “I like really silly examples of overpriced vinyl. You can’t go for used copies of Paul McCartney’s 80s album, Pipes Of Peace.

“But because he was in the Beatles, some people think, ‘That must be rare’ and try to charge £80.

“You’re lucky you got five for that.” I love it when people try to charge £300 for a Reader’s Digest compilation of the world’s best waltzes because they think, ‘Wow, vinyl is back

CDs have a long way to go to match their early 2000s sales. But with no new physical way to own music since their development, it’s no wonder the CD revival is coming. As long as CDs are made, it looks like music fans will continue to buy them, perhaps for another 40 years.

Jack L. Goldstein