Wednesday, November 27, 2013


We've been hearing for years that the CD format is dying.

In fact, one of the reasons I started this blog was to review CD's and get people excited about the album format again.

Sadly, while I seem to get respectable hits, the pattern of comments from the same handful of people (even when I tried giving away CD's it did not change) would indicate that I was not very successful in my mission.

Don't get me wrong you faithful who stop by and comment-I appreciate your interest and your words-but I'd hoped to reach a wider audience and have failed at that.

And here we are, coming towards the end of another year, still discussing the viability of the album format.

As Kasim Sulton (Todd Rundgren, Utopia, Meat Load, Joan Jett, Scandal) readies his latest solo effort for release, he has indicated that this will be the last one. Other artists have said similar things, and a simplistic analysis of unit sales would seem to indicate that the album is breathing its last.

Since 2000, album sales have fallen in every year but one (2004) and physical unit sales have gone from 785 million to 194 million. Digital albums have made up some of the losses at 118 million units, but that's still leaving album sales at 60% lower levels than their peak.

But that peak was unrealistic. Album sales are only down 49% from 1994 levels, and only 15% lower than 1975 levels.

Keep in mind that during the CD era, the record labels were selling catalog titles in record numbers alongside new titles as listeners rushed to upgrade their LPs to CD. And the labels exploited that frenzy, with one CD reissue campaign after another (how many copies of Dark Side Of The Moon can one person buy? I can tell you if you really want to know).

But even in this age of iTunes and single-song purchases, 42% of Americans purchased a CD last year, and another 21% purchased a digital album.

And in a very interesting trend, the number of teens who purchased digital albums last year decreased, while teens who purchased physical CD increased (see the graph below).

None of this counts the continuing increase in vinyl LP sales, a trend that is now in its sixth year. In 2012, about 5 million new vinyl LP's were sold.

Add all of this up, I don't know what you get. Even Billboard, the trade magazine, tells the story both ways (the album is doomed, there's still hope).

But it would seem that the rumors of the album format's death are greatly exaggerated.

As you shop this holiday season, why not consider getting someone the gift of an album on CD or vinyl LP?

And while you're at it, why not get one for yourself?

Do you still buy albums? What's the last one you purchased?


  1. Good point that part of the boon in CD sales came from people buying CDs to replace their vinyl. I know I purchased quite a few in the late 80's and early 90's.
    For some bands, I do like to have the actual CD. Especially if there is bonus material, either in songs or a booklet. (And bands like Rush and Dream Theater are CD purchases no matter what.)
    Once in a while I will purchase a single song, but I usually buy the whole disc. Many are only ten bucks on iTunes, so why not?

    1. Alex-

      I can see the digital purchase of a song, but if I am going to get the whole album (which I usually do), I want the CD.

      Speaking of Dream Theater, my copy of Live At Luna Park arrived yesterday!


  2. This reminds me a lot of the 'scare' that often comes up about paper books dying off because e-books are the way of the future. Yes, e-books are growing. Just as digital sales of mp3s are growing immensely. But people still want tangible items to hold in their hands.

    If I like an album, I'll download it digitally and listen to it. But if I love an album, I'll buy the CD. Yes, I just rip the mp3s to my computer, but I love having the album itself in my physical collection. And there's no greater joy than going to a live show and either buying a signed CD from the band or discovering a really good opening act and buying a signed CD from them. Going home and downloading a set of files just isn't the same.

    1. Bryan-

      Your last sentence nails it for me. Downloading files just isn't the same.

      The only time I buy a download is for one song or if I just have to have it and the physical release is out of print and too costly used.

      Ditto for e-books (although I do own one of yours in that format)-I like holding the book. The reader (iPad mini, in my case) is handy for travel, but I still find I am throwing a book into my carryon because I prefer them.

      Guess I am old school.


  3. The last CD I bought was 'POTATO HOLE' by Booker T. Jones, at that show you so generously took me to.

    And, by the way, that is one FANTASTIC album! With the exception of about 10 days, when I was listening to that 'Spirit Of Venice, California' compilation, 'POTATO HOLE' is all I have played in my truck since seeing Booker T. at the Musical Instrument Museum.

    Even earlier today, I was listening to it while going out to some grocery stores, and I was marvelling over the fact that after 50+ listenings, I am still learning the tunes.

    I will have to write a review for this album on my blog someday, but I don't even know how to describe it: it is and isn't Rock; it is and isn't Jazz; it is and isn't R&B. What IS this kind of music?

    Well, whatever it is, it's the best new music I've heard in a long time. A truly GREAT album. The one word that comes to mind when thinking about 'POTATO HOLE' is "RAW" - there is something fascinatingly raw about those tunes.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  4. I still buy CDs - and I like the fact that you can find things like this online:

    I do think we CD/vinyl buyers are in the minority, but I definitely think CDs are far from dead. Thing is I've seen music stores here dying because other stores that sell DVDs and CDs are getting all their business. People are more likely to go into a store that has DVDs and Blu-ray, and buy those, and maybe pick up some CDs while they're there, than go into what's just a music store. Except of course, the old school folks who go into old school music stores (there's still one in the area where I work that sells 2nd hand CDs, vinyl, etc.).